My local beach this morning
Here, 28 weeks ago
2018 January 17
The New York Times
The US Nuclear Posture Review sent to President Trump for approval would permit the use of nuclear weapons to respond to a wide range of attacks on
Cyberattacks against the United States and its interests would be regarded as sufficient to justify a nuclear response. Experts say a cyberattack is
an efficient way to paralyze systems like the power grid, cellphone networks, and the backbone of the internet without using nuclear weapons.
The draft review cites concern about expanding threats in space and cyberspace to the command and control systems of the American nuclear arsenal.
The nuclear response networks could be disabled or fed false data in a cyberattack. Any conflict would begin with a lightning strike on space and
The draft strategy embraces US production of a new generation of small, low-yield nuclear weapons. The new plan would push the price tag for a
makeover of the US nuclear arsenal above the previous estimate of $1.2 trillion.
AR Do we need to start building bunkers?
French president Emmanuel Macron is visiting Britain this week and defence is top of the agenda. Both sides want a new bilateral relationship to
reaffirm and preserve ties after Brexit.
Macron hopes to persuade Britain to sign up to his proposed European Intervention Initiative (EII). Another plan, the Permanent Structured Co-operation
(Pesco) on defence, is an EU project.
Brits are sceptical about integrating UK armed forces with those of Europe. But this is a luxury the UK can no longer afford. The EII is a way to start
a new and deep partnership with the continent.
UK participation in the €5.5 billion European Defence Fund is likely to be part of the second phase of Brexit talks. The UK government plans to continue
paying into the fund after Brexit.
AR Bilateral — what about Germany?
The Carillion collapse is enormously sensitive for Theresa May. In 2016, the group blamed Brexit for its poor business performance. The UK governments
like to talk up the strength of the British economy, but the Carillion bankruptcy says otherwise.
"The pace of new order intake has slowed in the second half. We believe this is due in part to the changes within UK government departments following
the EU referendum result, as they reassessed their spending priorities."
Carillion, December 2016
"Carillion was left with just £29 million in cash when it collapsed .. the insolvent construction company owed £1.29 billion to its banks."
Gill Plimmer, January 2017
AR Yet the directors were paid millions.
Perhaps more than any other single American, Oprah Winfrey is responsible for giving national platforms and legitimacy to all sorts of magical thinking,
from pseudoscientific to purely mystical, fantasies about extraterrestrials, paranormal experience, satanic cults, and more. The various fantasies she has
promoted on all her media platforms are not as dangerous as Donald Trump's mainstreaming of false conspiracy theories, but for three decades she has had
a major role in encouraging Americans to abandon reason and science in favor of the wishful and imaginary.
2018 January 16
France and Britain
France flourished in the three postwar decades and set the terms of European integration. Britain faced industrial disarray and rebuffs in its dithering
bids to join the European project. Once Britain had joined, the next three decades saw it catch up and edge slightly ahead.
Today, the entire UK governing class is occupied with negotiating a Brexit for which all the options seem dismaying. Meanwhile France is turning outward.
Emmanuel Macron is liberalising French labour regulations, reducing state holdings in big companies, and talking up France.
Formal departure from the EU is not the same as meaningful independence from it. Brits may face EU standards, courts, and budgets, minus a say over them.
Unless Britain transforms its trade, Europe will continue to dominate its nominally sovereign affairs.
Poland and Hungary
The Polish government stands accused of violating the EU founding principles. It has turned state broadcasting into propaganda and cleared the way to stack
the Polish courts. It is also making life hard for independent media and pushing alarming reforms of the voting system.
The EU faces a fundamental dilemma. If the EU authorities fail to take action, they will be ignoring threats to democracy and the rule of law. If they take
action, they let a nationalist government say foreign bureaucrats are trying to undermine Polish independence.
The Hungarian government has gone further than Poland in undermining the independence of the media and the courts, but Hungary has powerful friends in
Germany. The German government wants good relations with Poland.
Terrestrial plants first appeared nearly 50 My BP, and flowering plants 100 My BP. Once angiosperms emerged, their diversity grew far faster than that of
the gymnosperms and ferns. Today, the 350 000 flowering plant species constitute 90% of all plants on land.
As angiosperms evolved, early lineages often duplicated their whole genome. The extra copies of genes took on new functions. Because carrying so much
genetic material was taxing, natural selection then aggressively pruned unneeded sequences.
This genome downsizing set off a cascade of effects. Less DNA let the flowering plants build their leaves from smaller cells, with a high density of
stomata, veins, and photosynthetic cells. Thus they turned sunlight into sugars more efficiently.
Angiosperms exhibit a nearly 2,400-fold difference between their smallest and largest genomes, compared to 196-fold for ferns and 16-fold for gymnosperms.
So angiosperms can better tune their physiology to their environment and live in more diverse habitats.
2018 January 15
Daniel Ellsberg is best known for worrying about the American war in Vietnam. But his first and biggest worry was the American plans for nuclear war.
He worked at RAND on nuclear war planning just before and during the Kennedy administration.
In 1961, Ellsberg learned that the United States could easily destroy the Soviet missile force. Only four ICBMs were ready to go, all at a single site.
They took a long time to prepare for launch and were in the open, close enough together to get all four with a single nuclear hit.
The principal author of the Strategic Air Command plan was General Curtis LeMay. His goal was the sudden and utter destruction of the Soviet Union,
and his plan called for nuclear strikes on just about every city in Russia and in China. Herman Kahn called it wargasm.
The planners had even added up the probable number of dead: about 380 million people. Ellsberg says the danger persists as long as the weapons are
there. These weapons are too dangerous to have because they are too dangerous to use.
2018 January 14
An Islamic State
The first attempts at a modern Islamic state had to flounder. Young Muslims had grown up under the paradigms of nationalism, European racism, and harsh
police states, and carried these inherited behaviors into the caliphate formed by the Islamic State. It will take generations to unlearn these tendencies
and deconstruct what went wrong.
The Islamic State has revitalized the dream of some form of Islamic homeland. This is an idea with more appeal than many in the West want to admit. A
broad mainstream embrace of a collective Muslim identity has prompted young Muslims to view themselves as a collective community.
In Europe, an idealized future Muslim state is a place where integration does not require secularization. Across the Mideast, young Muslims belong to a
generation living in countries that have stripped the notion of citizenship of meaning. No wonder they identify as citizens of Islam, rather than whatever
country whose passport they hold.
The Islamic State caliphate grew out of the Syrian civil war, but it was also made possible by thousands of Muslims from across the world leaving their
countries behind in pursuit of a dream. The Islamic State claimed to represent the idea of a caliphate. It remains squarely in the minds of Muslims, even
if many keep those sentiments from public view.
AR It must therefore remain squarely in the minds of national security planners.
Excellent choice: British Army wants to spend £3 billion on Rheinmetall Boxer AFVs.
"Brexit is the dumbest thing
Britain has done in my lifetime
.. For me and for many other
Britons, this is an absolute
tragedy .. Brexit destroys
work of a generation that has
brought Europe together."
When the country falls into
chaos, patriotism is born.
Tao Te Ching
"Oprah Winfrey would make
an absolutely brilliant president.
If she declares, I will back her."
Kick Against the Pricks
A covert system of taxation hinders female advancement in the work world. Many high-profile men have been demanding sexual homage from their female
employees and others wishing entry into their fiefdoms. If sexual harassment is not about sex but about power, recent events tell us that power is a
A former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson, started the fire. Her 2016 sexual harassment lawsuit against Fox chairman Roger Ailes netted her a $20 million
settlement and an apology from Fox. After news of the lawsuit broke, thousands of women wrote to Carlson about their own experiences, and most of her book
is devoted to their stories.
Miss America contestants should not be the object of sexual come-ons by sleazy PR guys. Yet Miss America contestants are there to uphold certain fantasies
about femininity. One man who hit on such women was Donald Trump, who boasted of barging into dressing rooms in the Miss Teen USA contest to gape at
unclothed teenage girls.
Women are meant to feel shame at this treatment. They get to be the dumping ground for every form of male weakness and self-loathing that can be offloaded
onto them. The convenience of misogyny is that men are spared from hating themselves because they have women to hate instead.
Learning about other humans acting so robotically presents a conceptual difficulty. There is a weirdness to possessing a sexuality, whatever your gender.
We go to work and have to pretend that neither we nor our coworkers have genitals under our clothes.
2018 January 13
Color is a puzzle in philosophy. Modern science can explain how the molecules released into the air by a sage plant stimulate my nose or how its petals
reflect light and appear as they do to my eye. But the scent and the color make no showing in that explanation.
The problem of color is an ontological issue. The concern is that color perception lands us with an erroneous view of the world and that humans fall
victim to a systematic illusion in perceiving external objects as colored. So colored objects are constructions or projections of the brain.
Realism about color comes in many varieties. One proposal is to identify colors with some physical property of objects. The main difficulty is in squaring
this with what we know about the subjective aspects of color, like the variability of color as perceivers and contexts change.
These realist and anti-realist proposals only focus on either the objective or subjective aspects of color. An alternative position is relationist.
Color points out to the world of objects, and at the same time it draws us inward to examine the perceptual subject.
Color is the property of a perceptual process. Because color cannot be reduced either to physics or to psychology, a blue sky is not inner or outer
but somehow in between. This idea has implications for the understanding of conscious perceptual experience.
2018 January 12
Britain faces a £20 billion budget gap between what it wants and what it can afford for defence. RUSI researcher
Justin Bronk sees two options:
1 Stay global and retain the ability to fight expeditionary wars beside the Americans against weaker, poorer countries.
Devote the Royal Navy to protecting the two new aircraft carriers. Give up the ability to fight land wars against Russia and hope the Americans deter
a military attack or turn up in time to prevent defeat.
2 Shed the global ambitions and focus on defending Europe from Russia. Keep a smaller but more heavily equipped army,
most likely based in Poland. Scrap the amphibious warfare capability and slim down the Royal Marines. Let the navy deal with Russian submarines.
Give the aircraft carriers to the Americans.
Focusing UK defence on Europe balances the damage done by Brexit. East Europeans and Scandinavians would be happy. The Trump administration has cast a shadow
over NATO, and the Americans could leave Europe to the locals.
Any clear choice would be better than the current shambles. Another question concerns the future role that military defence should play in national security.
Defence against cyber and terror threats demands a thorough reassessment.
2018 January 11
Warning on Russia
The New York Times
Democrats on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee have issued a report that offers a comprehensive public accounting of Russia's war on the West.
The 2016 election, which every US intelligence agency has said involved Russian interference to help elect Donald Trump, is part of a pattern in which
President Vladimir Putin has worked to erode Western institutions and undermine faith in democracy.
President Trump refuses to acknowledge that Russia poses a security threat. Republicans in Congress have expressed more concern about those who revealed
Russian meddling than about the meddling.
The report says the Kremlin has increased spending on propaganda and on groups and political parties opposed to the EU and NATO, enlisted organized crime
groups to launder money and commit other crimes, and used its control of energy supplies to spread corruption.
Russia used cyberwarfare, disinformation, and military force in Georgia and Ukraine, has undermined Serbian efforts to integrate with the West, has weakened
democracy in Hungary and Bulgaria, and is spreading its reach into Mexico and the Mideast.
The president has denied Russian meddling and refused to criticize Putin. The report was produced without Republican input.
The Spitler Burst
On Christmas Eve 2016 at Arecibo Observatory, an extremely powerful repeating fast radio burst (FRB) from a source 3 billion light years away said hello.
The burst is now called FRB 121102 or the Spitler burst. In the following weeks, Arecibo registered 15 more bursts from this source. The object creating the
bursts must be in an extreme cosmic neighborhood, such as near a black hole with a mass of more than 10 kilosuns.
The burst helps to strengthen the theory that at least some FRBs might be produced by magnetars. A magnetic field near the source has twisted its radio waves,
an effect known as Faraday rotation, in this case so extreme that the repeating FRB is in an extreme environment. We need more data.
Gravity has no quantum theory. In quantum theories, all interactions depend on the energy at which they take place. This is quantified by calculating how
the parameters depend on energy.
A theory that is well behaved at high energies is asymptotically free. For quantum gravity to work, we must be able to describe the theory at high energies
using only a finite number of parameters, and none of the parameters should become infinite. This asymptotic safety provides a link between testable low
energies and inaccessible high energies.
2018 January 10
Catherine Deneuve et al.
The Weinstein affair has raised awareness of sexual violence against women, particularly in the workplace, where some men abuse their power. This was necessary.
But this liberation of speech has turned today into its opposite.
Puritans cite the protection of women and their emancipation to help condemn them to the status of eternal victims, poor little things under the influence of
The #metoo campaign has led to public denunciation and punishment of men who, without being given the opportunity to respond or defend themselves, were put on
the same level as sex offenders. The men may have touched a knee, tried to steal a kiss, talked about sex at work, or sent sexually explicit messages to a
This fever to send "pigs" to slaughter, far from helping women to empower themselves, actually serves the interests of the enemies of sexual freedom and those
who have their own agenda regarding good and morality.
2018 January 9
A positive outcome to the next phase of Brexit talks is by no means guaranteed. For now, the accent must be on making the best of what will be
economically inferior to EU membership. That means keeping the UK as close to Europe as possible.
The negotiations over UK relations with Europe, the controversy surrounding the border in Ireland, and the continuing power of Scottish national
sentiment are obliging the English to think harder than usual about who they are and what they want.
For the past three centuries, their national identity has been folded into their role as the senior power in the British federation, so they have
rarely needed to question their place in the world. But thanks to Brexit, the English national identity is undergoing a fast and furious overhaul.
A country that was once a byword for steady imperturbability has suddenly revealed itself to be fractious, impulsive, and jittery. A land of fair play
and cautious pragmatism has become moody and quarrelsome. The idea that the English are strong and stable has lost all credibility.
England today feels like a country that has fallen out of love with itself. The English might become the drivers of a new golden age for a new global
Britain. Or they might awake from the Brexit fever, gape in amazement, and wonder how such folly came to pass.
Churchill in 1940
Winston Churchill was on the wrong side of history and of statecraft for most of his political career. His triumph of May 1940 makes for a cracking yarn. But few people today understand what was at stake during the Dunkirk crisis, because so few retellings of the story confront its class dimension.
Class divisions and antagonisms were enormous in the Britain of 1940. The scale of elite collusion in the effort to appease Hitler and the scale of the
unfolding military disaster were unknown to most members of the public. When tens of thousands of troops returned, defeated, stories circulated that the
officers at Dunkirk had fled, leaving ordinary soldiers in the lurch.
Churchill chose to fight, both to defend the empire and to prevent British politics from exploding. To sell a peace to the public, the establishment would
have deployed the media, monarchy, and civil service, but Labour leaders might have stoked a revolution. Churchill understood this.
AR Unite against an external enemy — stave off class war.
The 50th Mersenne prime is
2^77232917 — 1.
in decimal notation it has
Fire and Fury
Inside the Trump
John Ross about 30 years ago
Year of the Golden Dog
Russia vs NATO
Estonian defense forces are establishing a cyber command. Conscription allows us to utilize the skills and
knowledge of our brightest young specialists. A voluntary organization keep the cyber defense capabilities up to date.
The Russian speaking minority is strongly represented throughout the Estonian defense forces. Allied troops are
here in Estonia too, to defend NATO. Their presence is an important sign of NATO unity and resolve.
2018 January 8
Golden Globes 2018
Insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth keeps us from turning a blind eye
to corruption and to injustice. Speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. The story transcends any
culture, geography, race, religion, politics, or workplace.
We all have lived too many years in a culture broken
by brutally powerful men. And for too long, women have not been heard or believed if they dared to speak their truth to
the power of those men. But their time is up.
In my career, I have always tried my best to say something about
how men and women really behave: to say how we experience shame, how we love and how we rage, how we fail, how we retreat,
persevere, and how we overcome. A new day is on the horizon when nobody ever has to say "Me too" again.
2018 January 7
This is a movie about May 1940 and the
first three weeks of Winston Churchill's premiership. Every prime
minister since has known that they will never match his place in
history. There is no one like Churchill among contemporary political
leaders on either side of the Atlantic.
Darkest Hour pivots
around three of Churchill's finest speeches: his debut to parliament
as prime minister, his first radio address to a frightened nation,
and another speech to MPs following the Dunkirk evacuation. Never in
the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to one man's
brilliance with words.
How painful it is to contrast what was
at stake in 1940, when there was a genuine danger of Britain
becoming a vassal state of Nazism, with the phoney and petty furies
that foam around many of the arguments related to Brexit.
1940, much of the British military thought invasion highly likely
and defeat unavoidable. This made Churchill's determination to fight
on all the braver. He did not follow public opinion — he led it.
2018 January 6
My Year Inside Trump White House
I interviewed Donald Trump for The
Hollywood Reporter in June 2016. He seemed to have liked the piece I
wrote, and his non-disapproval became a kind of passport for me to
hang around in the White House, day after day.
sense of the Trump presidency was being lived as intensely inside
the White House as out. Trump was, for the people closest to him,
the ultimate enigma. He had been elected president, but he seemed as
confused as anyone to find himself in the White House.
was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant
gratification. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he
would regularly declaim. As the first year wound down, Trump finally
got a bill to sign. The tax bill was quite a reversal of his
populist promises. Mitch McConnell: "He'll sign anything we put in
front of him."
2018 January 5
Brexit — Demand Dialog
I want Britain to stay in the European Union.
No one disputes the 2016 vote, or if it stands we will leave. The
issue is whether we have the right to change our mind.
we voted in 2016, we knew we were voting against our present
membership of the EU, but not what the future relationship would be.
It was like having a general election in which the question is: "Do you like the government?" If that were the question, few incumbent
governments would be re-elected.
The options in approaching
the Brexit negotiation:
1 To rethink
and stay, best done in a reformed Europe, where we use the Brexit
vote as leverage to achieve reform.
To exit the political structures of the EU but stay in the single
market and customs union.
3 To exit
both the political and the economic structures of the EU but try to
negotiate a bespoke deal that recreates the existing economic
benefits and keeps us close to Europe politically.
4 To exit both structures, to make a
virtue of leaving and negotiate a basic free trade agreement.
All the last three options are Brexit. The government has ruled
out option 2 and is seeking to negotiate option 3, but a substantial
part of the Tory Party is prepared to go for option 4. The problem
with option 3 is that this is simply not negotiable without major
concessions which make a mockery of the case for leaving. The
problem with option 4 is that it would involve significant economic
pain as we adjust our economy to the new terms of trade.
Northern Ireland is a metaphor for the central dilemma of this
negotiation: we are either in the single market and customs union or
we will have a hard border and hard Brexit. It is the difference
between the status of Norway and that of Canada. The nearer the
Norway option, the more the obligations; the nearer the Canada
option, the less the access.
The dilemma flows naturally from
the fact that the single market is a unique trading area with a
single system of regulation and a single system of arbitration. And
the risk is that we end up with the worst of all worlds. We muddle
along, trying to leave without really leaving, with a patchwork of
arrangements that only mean we have lost our seat at the table.
Demand that we know the full details of the new relationship
before we quit the old one. Brexit is not and never was the answer.
Open up a dialog with European leaders about reforming Europe.
2018 January 4
Fire and Fury
The New York Times
President Trump said his
onetime chief strategist Stephen Bannon had "lost his mind" after
Bannon was quoted asserting that Donald Trump Jr had been
"treasonous" in meeting with Russians and calling Ivanka Trump "dumb
as a brick" in
Fire and Fury.
White House statement: "Steve
pretends to be at war with the media, which he calls the opposition
party, yet he spent his time at the White House leaking false
information to the media to make himself seem far more important
than he was. It is the only thing he does well. Steve was rarely in
a one-on-one meeting with me and only pretends to have had influence
to fool a few people with no access and no clue, whom he helped
write phony books."
Fire and Fury: "The three
senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with
a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on
the 25th floor — with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers. Even
if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad
shit, and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called
the FBI immediately."
An unnamed White House aide in
Fire and Fury: "It's worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded
by clowns. Trump won't read anything — not one-page memos, not the
brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings
with world leaders because he is bored."
press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called the
book trashy tabloid fiction.
2018 January 3
Germany and America
Germany and the United States remain close
business partners. This will continue despite the failure to
establish a transatlantic trade deal and the shifting orientation of
both economies toward China. Militarily, Germany and Europe depend
on the United States and its nuclear umbrella.
Germany is an
aspiring power that lacks both the public support and the strategic
culture to act more assertively. The debate over where
German-American relations are headed is also an emotional issue, a
question of love and dependence and letting go. Many Germans still
look fondly to America, whoever is president.
A new voice of
anti-Americanism says America has overstayed its welcome on the
world stage. America still insists on dominating the world both
culturally and politically, but its culture is superficial and
phony, its citizens hypocritical and uneducated. Such
anti-Americanism lurks behind the current debate.
faced with a new global environment that seems to demand radical
change. But as a world player, Germany can act only through Europe,
inhibited by the other 26 EU states. A strategic shift remains
Populism in Europe
Lord Adonis resigned his government position
and pledged to fight to prevent Brexit. His argument is that Brexit
is an act of self-mutilation and I rather agree. But we both made
that point before the referendum and we did not manage to muster a
The political establishment might be able to stop
Brexit. But the damage done to trust in democracy would be huge.
Unless the second referendum arose from a huge public wave of
support, millions will conclude that their vote and the promise made
to them were worthless when they challenged the interests and
attitudes of the political establishment.
Adonis seems to
assume that with Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, populism
crested. The stupidity of voting for dumb populist ideas has become
so obvious that even the idiots responsible are beginning to get it.
Now the political establishment needs to step in to save them from
the consequences of their earlier folly.
But the data shows
that the rise of populism carries on. I share his desire to persuade
people that open markets underpinned by international cooperation
and a strong welfare state offer mankind its best hope. But starting
that campaign with an effort to stop Brexit, however tempting, is a
AR A more
calamitous misjudgment than an effort to stop Brexit would be to
proceed with it on the basis of a flawed snapshot of the presumed
will of the people within an island monarchy when the main effect of
Brexit will be to sour relations with continental neighbours upon
whom the continued peace and prosperity of the island people depend.
Parliamentary delegates in the UK might reflect that the data on
populism around Europe suggests a rising tide of raw emotion that if
left unchecked could end as badly as the rising tide of patriotism
that led to calamity in 1914. It is not the duty of parliamentarians
to persist in obvious folly merely because years earlier their
voters chose under the evident sway of dislike of immigration and
feelings of national pride to vote for that folly.
2018 January 2
Brexit — Madness
The UK government is negotiating to leave the
EU, just so they can negotiate another arrangement with the EU to
give the UK as much as possible of what it already has, but on
The EU is the world's largest free trade
area. As a member, the UK receives benefits worth far more than the
net annual membership fee of £7.1 billion a year. As a member, the
UK enjoys free, frictionless trade with its biggest trading partner
by far, where almost half of its exports go to and over half of its
imports come from.
The UK government is desperate to continue
to enjoy similar membership benefits of frictionless trade with the
EU after it have ended UK membership, because they know that the
economy depends on it. Britain needs frictionless trade with the EU.
It needs free movement of goods, services, capital, and people for
the country to thrive.
Britain will pay around £50 billion to
try and achieve what it already has, but less of it, and on
considerably inferior terms. This is utter madness. There are no
good reasons to leave.
Luther and Germany
Martin Luther was a deeply conservative person
with strong authoritarian tendencies. He wanted to reinstate the
power of God over human freedom. He had the moral certitude of an
angry young man combined with the mindset of a religious fanatic.
His anger needed enemies, conspiracy, and a higher order of good
and bad. He argued against the elites in the name of the people to
lead a populist uprising. The revolt he initiated in Germany set the
stage for a reconstruction of oppressive regimes in the name of God.
He saw devils all around — the Pope, the peasants, the Turks,
the Jews: "Therefore let everyone who can, smite, slay and stab,
secretly or openly, remembering that nothing can be more poisonous,
hurtful, or devilish than a rebel."
Luther led a revolt in
the name of the order of God. His words and deeds could justify
calling him a terrorist. But he constructed a national German
identity that was connected to Christianity.
The crooked timber school of humanity says
the line between good and evil runs through each person and we fight
injustice on the basis of our common humanity. The
oppressor/oppressed morality says the line runs between tribes. That
makes it easy to feel good about yourself. But it makes you very
hard to live with.
2018 January 1
Donald Trump's first year in the White House
has been much more damaging to the nation than that of any other
president in modern times:
● The sweeping tax
bill that was rammed through Congress gives a huge tax cut to
corporations and to wealthy individuals, will add roughly $1
trillion over the next ten years to the federal deficit, and will
widen further the already huge gulf between the very wealthy and the
rest of America.
● Trump said he was
going to do away with the Affordable Care Act (but it remains on the books).
● He ordered a wall
to be built along the Mexican border (but it is not close to
● He has done lasting
harm to the federal judiciary and to the lower courts.
● Across a range of
environmental and regulatory agencies, he has appointed officials
with a record of hostility to the idea that the federal government
operates for the benefit of the public.
● With the rest of
the world, Trump has destroyed many of the understandings,
agreements, and relationships that have served as the foundation for
US foreign policy for half a century or more.
● He announced that the United States would withdraw
from the TPP, helping China in its ambitions to become the leading
power in the region.
● He recognized Jerusalem as the capital of
Israel and move the US embassy to Jerusalem.
● He withdrew
the United States from the Paris accord on climate change.
● He became the first
US president to waver on American commitment to NATO.
● He ordered a
renegotiation of NAFTA.
● He regularly
suggests that America is paying too much for its alliances and
agreements, and that other countries are not paying enough.
● Against North
Korea, Trump taunted Kim Jong-un, calling him Little Rocket Man and
threatening to totally destroy his country.
● He put a corporate
hatchet man in the State Department to cut the staff.
● Trump's America
First foreign policy has caused huge damage in the realm of ideas.
● He has attacked
the rule of law, notions of political and racial tolerance,
national unity, the freedom of the press, civil
discourse, and even truth itself.
● He has abandoned
the notion of civil discourse by refusing to accord his
political opponents even a minimum level of respect.
● He has undermined
the rule of law and the principles of democracy by calling for the
investigation and prosecution of his political adversaries.
● He has shown no
willingness to respect the independent press as a restraint and
watchdog on government.
● He has given presidential validation to racism and
nativism, along with hostility toward education, science, and
The damage he is causing is piling up week
by week. The longer he stays, the worse it will get.
New Year Message
We all have prevailed well over many
difficulties in the past year. The country achieved the milestone of
$1 trillion in trade once again and regained annual economic growth
of over 3%. These accomplishments were made in the face of political
turmoil and security challenges.
As President of the Republic
of Korea, I would like to express my profound respect and
appreciation to each and every one of you.
Spacetime Wormholes and Quantum Teleportation
The idea that things falling into black
holes vanish without trace violates quantum mechanics. But the idea
that black holes are empty shells with hot firewalls violates
Perhaps quangled black
holes A and B forming the two mouths of a wormhole can generate
repulsive negative energy to keep the throat open, so stuff tossed
into A can worm through and pop out of B. This amounts to quantum
The ER = EPR conjecture that wormhole-linked
points in spacetime are equivalent to quangled pairs suggests space
is stitched into existence by entanglement. Maybe wormholes let
quangled bits escape as Hawking radiation.
If so, then black holes
have no firewalls, unitarity is preserved, and the interior and
exterior of a black hole are two complementary ways of looking at
the same system.
AR Fond rehash of
a fun can of worms — blog 2017-11-08.
launch, California, December 22
Iran vs America
Chess is a game I love.
2011 to 2015, I played for the
Iranian national team. But time
and time again, those in charge
of the team showed that they
more about the scarf
covering my hair than the
brain under it.
The Iranian chess federation
has barred me from playing in
for not wearing a hijab in
2017. I have joined the United
Chess Federation and
started school at St Louis
University. I am
for US citizenship.
New Year Honour:
Sir Nick Clegg
Kim Min-Hee and Kim
AR Korean handmaiden and
Japanese lady find love and
foil bad men — fun plot,
sex well done.
2017 December 31
No God But God
Reza Aslan is a good writer and a good historian of religion. His
2013 book Zealot on Jesus was excellent, so I had high hopes for
this 2011 book on Islam. Many hopes were indeed fulfilled: the
historical timeline is clear, the known facts are in place, the
conjectures are properly flagged, the context for contemporaries and
believers is sketched credibly, and the final result is easy and
pleasant to read.
Any historian of Islam will be confronted
with controversy and compelled to take sides. Aslan takes the side
of the Sufis, a relatively gentle and reflective tradition in Islam
with mystic leanings, which grew up in the shade of the Shia branch
of the Mohammedan faith in lands that had rich and deep traditions
of belief and philosophy. In doing so, he distances himself from the
Sunni branch and those of its variants such as Wahhabism that have
attracted Western anger in recent years.
What Aslan does not
do, and what diminishes his book for me, is stand back far enough
from the entire tradition of veneration for the revelations of the
Prophet, and their expression in the series of texts that form the
Quran, to see the wood for the trees. Even today, no pious Muslim
would dare regard the revelations or their canonical expression as
anything but holy, but for a modern Westerner with some respect for
science and rational thinking the leap of imagination required to
take such affirmed holiness at face value is just too great. This
reader at least is driven to taking a remote anthropological stance
on the Arab and related societies of a thousand plus or minus a few
hundred years ago and regarding their strange belief system as shot
through with hardly less nonsense than any other ancient myth or
Despite his Muslim roots, Aslan is a
modern Western writer, so he must must see the need to keep such
rational readers on board, even if in the end he parts company with
them in continuing to venerate his holy relics. There may be a
learning curve here, for he does a fine job in standing back from
Christian or other pieties in discussing Jesus in his later book
Zealot; perhaps it is easier to stand back from a faith one feels no
residual need to defend or believe in. Modern societies with
Christian or Muslim roots are surely robust enough to rise above
superstitious awe in face of alleged revelations and the purportedly
holy texts that spring from them, or at any rate we can only hope
so, if we are to avoid a new clash of civilizations.
Aslan, I have some sympathy for the Sufi thread in the story of
Islam, and feel some distaste for the hardened institutional forms
of the Muslim faith, which like their Christian equivalents have led
to serial disasters in the societies swayed by them. Unlike him,
however, I see little hope for a revival of Sufism in the Muslim
world and indeed little hope of sufficient reform within Islam to
accommodate it to the constraints of life in an age of global
connectivity, robots, and nuclear weapons. Only a clean separation
of secular life, including politics, from the inner life of religion
can enable us to regulate the modern world, it seems to me, and even
a revived Sufism would be of no obvious help in doing so.
summary, then, a modern history of Islam, especially one that like
this volume takes us up to contemporary political issues surrounding
the ongoing wars in Muslim majority societies, can only work for
Western readers if it rises above a partisan perspective. As it is,
Aslan seems to feel sympathy for the victim narrative that Western
imperialists have cruelly exploited the Muslim world, which must
therefore rise up and restore its fortunes by defeating the
infidels. This cuts no ice with me, even in the context of a volume
of history that otherwise deserves some praise.
Religion vs Atheists
The Egyptian parliament is drafting a
bill to criminalize atheists. MP Mustafa Bakri: "The spread of
atheism is an expression of decadence and lack of faith and
threatens the whole of society."
A 2014 study put the
number of atheists in Egypt at 886. President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
faces elections in 2018 and plans to take a stand against atheism and homosexuality.
2017 December 30
Brexit — Populist Spasm
The European Union Withdrawal Bill is the
worst legislation of my lifetime. It arrives soon in the House of
Lords and I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly.
is a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm worthy of Donald
Trump. After the narrow referendum vote for an undefined proposition
to leave the EU, it could have been attempted without rupturing our
essential European trade and political relations.
needs to be deeply engaged, responsible and consistent in its
European policy. When we have failed to be so in the past, the
security and prosperity of our continent have been in jeopardy.
For Her Majesty's Government, there is no such thing as splendid
isolation. When Lord Salisbury pronounced this as British policy in
the imperial late-Victorian era, it was followed within barely a
decade by the First World War and what was, in effect, a 30-year
European war between the forces of democracy on the one hand, and
Communism and extreme nationalism on the other.
may not appear so high as this at the moment, but no-one observing
Putin's Russia, and the rise of authoritarian nationalism in Poland
and Hungary, can doubt the resonances with the past or the dangers
AR Perhaps the ship of
state is beginning to turn away from the iceberg.
2017 December 29
Many Worlds and Black Holes
A black hole either destroys
information, violating quantum mechanics, or is surrounded by a
blazing firewall, violating general relativity. Sean Carroll says the
paradox disappears when the evolution of black holes is understood
via the many worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics.
quantum state of the universe is described by the global wave
function. Whenever there are many possible outcomes for a physical
process, the wave function in the many worlds interpretation
branches, with one branch for each outcome. Once the branches cease
to interact, they evolve as separate worlds — and so do the
observers in the worlds.
For such an observer, spacetime
behaves as in general relativity and the black hole has no
firewall. Conservation of information applies to the global wave
function and not to its individual branches. The evolution of the
wave function is unitary and there is no global loss of information.
Simulations of the formation of planetary
systems show what happens to moons as their planets are still
forming. Planets are born in turbulent clouds of rocks, where they
are jostled around violently. They frequently collide with
neighboring rocks and dislodge any early
moons orbiting them.
Most planets shed their primordial
moons. The moons that orbit close in stay, but those
further out can come loose. They can remain bound to their
home stars as new planets, but most are flung out into interstellar
space. There could be many more stray moons than stars in the Milky Way.
On leadership of Europe, France is weaker than Germany but more
ambitious. France will accept German leadership on federalising the
eurozone but wants Germany to pay the bill. Germany, still lacking a
government since the September election, has no answer.
German politicians are
unwilling to tell their voters that European security means dealing
with Russia, which instigates conflicts abroad to distract from
stagnation and failure at home. German public opinion loathes the
idea of confronting the Kremlin. Germans also flinch from
confronting authoritarianism in Poland and Hungary.
aims to make Russia its main energy supplier with the Nord Stream 2
gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea. Germany feels guilty toward
Russia because of WW2 but seems not to notice the way Russia treats
Ukraine. Germany needs a new Ostpolitik.
AR I think Lucas fails to understand
Germany in the rest of his source text.
2017 December 28
Brexit — Suicide
UK 2017 was like a suicide who jumps off
a tall building and says as he falls: "So far, so good!"
British prime minister Theresa May agreed to all the EU demands: €50
billion of budget payments, ECJ jurisdiction over the rights of EU
citizens in the UK, and an open border with Ireland.
scenarios usually proposed for the UK relationship with the EU can
now be dismissed. Given the agreement, a hard Brexit is no longer
possible. Without cherry-picking, a soft Brexit is equally
A fake Brexit, similar to the Norway deal, would
retain many current UK privileges, in exchange for complying with EU
rules and regulations, including free movement of labor,
contributing to the EU budget, and accepting the jurisdiction of EU
law. Such a deal would carry a huge political cost. In Johnsonian
language, Britain would be reduced to a vassal state of the EU.
This status is what the UK has already requested for a
transition period up to the end of 2020. There is almost no chance
of Britain ever negotiating the deep and special partnership May has
promised. EU leaders will not let the UK have cake and eat it.
The only way out of the fake Brexit deadlock is a further
transition — how the Norway deal began. This is the dreaded Hotel
That leaves just one alternative: no
Brexit. Meanwhile, the suicide jumper is still falling.
AR The UK must learn to love the EU and
live, not loathe it and die.
Brexit — Tragedy
Brexit minister David Davis has proved to be
a bumbler. He scorned the progress that Theresa May made weeks ago
with a sketchy deal that lets the UK move on with the talks. Just a
declaration of intent, Davis said, until days later he had to
The UK is stuck. If it wants to leave the EU without
major economic damage, it must remain in the single market. But if
it stays in the single market, it will not be sovereign and will
have to comply with all the EU rules that Brexiteers wanted to shake
Eager to please voters, May tells them they can both
have cake and eat it. Her stubborn denial of reality shows how toxic
Brexit has become. Angry rejection of the EU by a few Brexiteers has
gradually infected the entire Conservative party.
for empire set British nationalists against the EU. They refused to
settle in the European family of nations. In recent decades, the
British economy relied increasingly on its financial sector and
debt-fueled consumption — until the 2008 crash.
Politics is a
victim of this mess. Before the referendum, over three-quarters of
MPs pledged to vote for remaining in the EU. Nine months later, over
three-quarters voted to trigger Brexit. They misrepresented a narrow
popular vote as a landslide.
The tragedy stems from the winner-take-all voting system.
2017 December 27
Civilization is a process in which you plus
me is better than you minus me. A society reduced to you versus me
or you minus me is broken. Soon or later, because it cannot invest
in public goods, it will begin to fail.
today is a place where regress has been normalized. Americans
live lives of impossible vulnerability, struggling to survive by
pulling down the next person. US society winnows out the weak
and rewards the strong, adopting the principle you minus me, or you
You plus me is the harder choice. It requires
humility, courage, wisdom, grace, and taming our lower selves.
Although it is easier to believe someone different from you is lazy
and subhuman, accepting you plus me pays off a greater sum in the
end, not only materially but also morally.
progress when we choose the path of you plus me. The question is
whether we keep expanding the boundaries of what it means to be
civilized — or follow America to the edge of the abyss.
AR I had to work on this one:
not US but EU plus me!
Idealized European Union with equipopulous member states
European Parliament representation needs such constituencies,
only to ensure proportionality but also to loosen state ties.
A fishery in Oxfordshire
passes ¥5.19 trillion
2018 defense budget to
counter Nork threat
UK immigration minister
Brandon Lewis: "Leaving the EU
gives us a unique opportunity
to restore our national identity
.. I am delighted to announce
that the British passport will
be returning to the iconic blue
and gold design after we have
the EU in 2019."
Britannia, by jingo!
Boeing MQ25 UAS US
drone tanker will refuel
navy combat aircraft
deputy prime minister
Damian Green sacked
over computer porn
The most fundamental aspect
of mind is
Meditators can distinguish
aversive stimuli, but they
react much less emotionally
than control subjects.
Trained meditators acquire the
to maintain an overall
emotional balance that favors
Philosophy has never only
No sooner do you start philosophizing than you
begin crafting a piece
European expertise in STEM
creates an opportunity
EZ growth — the Internet of
Things. The EU challenge is
to steer public policy and
via its €80 billion
R&D program Horizon 2020.
(YouTube, 15 min)
2017 Boxing Day
Six Minutes in May
Shakespeare has written a history that reads like a novel. By
turning his entire tale around the six minutes of a parliamentary
division on the evening of May 8, 1940, he gives the story of how
Winston Churchill took over as British prime minister from Neville
Chamberlain a dramatic twist. He sees the division as the watershed
moment after eight months of war between Britain and Germany, when
the island nation determined at last to pull itself together and
fight the foe in earnest by putting Winston the imperial warhorse at
the head of the charge.
The catalyst for this act of
parliamentary resolve was the Norway debate that led to the
division. The debate in the House of Commons was a first attempt to
address the governmental weaknesses revealed by a catastrophically
bungled British campaign against the German invasion of Norway. The
debate, although its exchanges sound to a modern ear as dry and
constricted by parliamentary protocol as any war of words in the
imperial sounding box, laid bare a campaign so incompetent and
confused as to beggar belief.
Shakespeare does not shy from
pointing out how Churchill himself, as First Lord of the Admiralty
and the leading champion of both the strategy and the execution of
the Norway campaign, bore as damning a share of responsibility for
the debacle as he had for the comparably bungled Gallipoli campaign
in 1915, when he had also been First Lord of the Admiralty. The 1915
disaster led to his disgrace and humiliation, but amazingly he
survived in 1940. Somehow, the blame for the mess was shifted to
Chamberlain, whose restrained and uncharismatic performance as prime
minister seemed to threaten further dismay if not swiftly addressed.
In the usual telling of this tale, the more decisive watershed
came on the day after the division, when the foreign secretary Lord
Halifax, who had been seen on all sides until then as the heir
apparent for the top job, revealed he had no stomach for the task of
waging war and essentially handed the vacancy to Churchill. As a
novelist, Shakespeare obviously takes delight in reconstructing in
damning detail the open secret of the intense romance between
Halifax and Lady Alexandra Metcalfe (Baba to her friends) that amply
explains the impossibility of Halifax ever achieving glory as a
warrior against so implacable a foe as Adolf Hitler. After that
writerly indulgence, Shakespeare says simply that Halifax, whose
former role as Viceroy of India had obviously spoiled him for a
lesser life in 10 Downing Street, had the decency to defer
gracefully to his old friend Winston.
A sceptical reader
might hazard a guess as to why Shakespeare turns his tale on the
Norway division, namely that his relative Geoffrey Shakespeare was a
minister in the Chamberlain government and played a significant role
in the course of the Norway debate, whereas he played no such role
in the dealings with Halifax. This personal interest encourages
Shakespeare the historian to wax eloquent on the appalling
incompetence of the British conduct of the Norway campaign and thus
to air a chapter in the history of the war that was too gratefully
forgotten in Britain when Churchill began to fulminate against the
Nazis and to get a grip on the British war effort. Today, when the
historical mind glides easily from the defeats in Poland and France
to the victories in the Mediterranean theatre and in Normandy, we do
well to recall these finer details.
has done a fine job of historical reconstruction here. The book is
big and well furnished with the scholarly apparatus that will earn
it a respected place on historical bookshelves, yet still spiced
with the novelistic dash that makes the enterprise come alive. For
my taste, the book is overloaded with trivial detail and lamed by
excessive respect for the preposterous paraphernalia of British
parliamentary procedure and tradition, so I refuse to praise the
work unreservedly, but for all practical purposes, in a crowded
marketplace, the book is a triumph.
2017 Christmas Day
Christmas Threatened by Islamization?
Many Germans think Christmas is
threatened by the Islamization of the West. But at the end of 2015,
between 4.4 and 4.7 million Muslims lived in Germany, alongside
about 23.8 million Catholics and 22.3 million Protestants. Three points:
1 It is
not new that a majority overestimates the significance of
minorities. World history offers too many examples of how small
groups of people of other faiths were persecuted and murdered.
2 Foreigners are often
instrumentalized by domestic interest groups. Religious minorities
offer an easy way to personalize complex challenges and make them
seem real. Again, this is not new.
For religious minorities, the perceived change seems more of a
threat than the number. The media often devote more attention to the
new and the unknown minorities than to familiar ones.
Christmas is endangered not by Muslims but by the dwindling role of
Since November 2015, the national-conservative Law and Justice
(PiS) party has governed Poland. The party has an absolute majority
in both chambers of parliament. It has pushed through laws to
influence the Constitutional Court, the Supreme Court, and the State
Justice Council in Poland as part of a judicial reform. Critics fear
for the independence of the Polish judiciary.
Commission has initiated proceedings under Article 7 of the EU
Treaty to examine whether Poland adheres to all democratic and
constitutional principles. Voting rights can be withdrawn as a
sanction. The Commission has also brought lawsuits against Poland,
Hungary, and the Czech Republic in the European Court of Justice for
refusing to accept refugees.
A Europe of Values
Heinrich August Winkler
The European Union requires that
member states guarantee democratic and constitutional order, respect
for human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities.
In 2010, Viktor Orbán became prime minister in
Hungary for the second time. Since then, he has acted to limit the
powers of the Constitutional Court and the independence of the
Since 2015, when his PiS party won power in
Poland, Jarosław Kaczyński has worked closely with Orbán. His attack
on the foundations of the constitutional state has provoked the
European Commission to start legal proceedings against Poland.
The European project is now in crisis. Its renewal must begin
with the salvation of its normative foundations.
Parliament cannot easily represent all EU citizens. A parliament
that gave all member states real representation would be too big, so
Malta and Luxembourg are over-represented and Germany and France are
underrepresented. The parliament cannot claim the same democratic
legitimacy as the Bundestag or the French National Assembly.
Perhaps half of the Members of the European Parliament could be
elected through transnational party lists. A European party system
would generalize social interests and bring them to bear beyond
national borders. But this would still lead to alienation from a
parliaments have a special responsibility for integration with
regard to Europe. Without the participation of the national
parliaments, European decision making is insufficiently democratic.
Europe needs a normative core for the European project to succeed.
AR Christian norms?
2017 Christmas Eve
The Quran is haunted by the desert.
Nowhere else do you get a greater feel for the benignity of water.
Heaven is the oasis of oases, rinsed with sweet waters. Allah speaks
a special language, in which mountains and words and springs are the
syllables. The overall tenor of the Quran is one of mercy and
forgiveness, which are evoked everywhere, almost obsessively.
No God But God
Ibn al-Arabi (1165—1240 CE) reformulated the
traditional Muslim profession of faith as: There is no being other
than the being of God; There is no reality other than the reality of
For al-Arabi, the Quranic statement that God created
humanity from a single soul means the universe itself is a single
being. Men who have realized their essential oneness with the divine
being become perfect or universal men. The perfect man is the mirror
in which the divine attributes are perfectly reflected, or the
medium through which God is made manifest.
For Sufis, the
paradigm of the perfect man is the Prophet Muhammad. They see
Muhammad as many Christian Gnostics saw Jesus, as the eternal logos,
as the light shining in darkness.
So the relationship between
God and Muhammad is like that between the Sun and the Moon: The Sun
is powerful and creative; The Moon is beautiful and responsive.
AR Glorious poetry
2017 December 23
Donald Trump has legitimized the language of
selfishness. During the campaign, he boasted about the gimmicks he
had deployed to avoid paying taxes. There is no purer example of the
politics of decadence than the tax legislation he has signed:
1 The cuts blatantly benefit the
president himself through the abolition of the alternative minimum
tax and the special treatment of real estate income. Americans
hardly even notice the mockery this implies of the public servant's
dedication to public good.
cuts have been targeted to help Republican voters and hurt
Democrats, above all through the abolition or sharp reduction of the
deductibility of state and local taxes. The cuts are the economic
equivalent of gerrymandering.
The cuts will not begin to pay for themselves. The White House and
congressional leaders simply dismiss the forecasts as too gloomy.
Neutral predictions of the effects of tax cuts on the budget must be
wrong, because the effects they foresee are bad ones.
democratic society becomes decadent when its politics becomes
morally and intellectually corrupt. New here is the sheer blitheness
of the contempt for the public good. Worship of the marketplace and
elevation of selfishness to a public virtue — this is America First.
Ronnie de Sousa
Evolutionary biology supports
existentialism. Practical moral claims presuppose the values of
life, health and happiness, but the fact that something is desired
does not prove it should be. One idea is that our desires stem from
our authentic human nature.
The doctrine of natural law is
slippery. Law seems to refer to descriptive generalizations about
what happens, but the meaning is closer to that of legislation. Laws
of the first sort cannot be broken, laws of the second sort are
We imagine nature sometimes makes mistakes. Organs
that fail to perform normally or organisms so different they are
unable to thrive used to be called freaks of nature. But in light of
evolution, we are the descendants of millions of freaks.
Natural law theory cannot tell us what goals to pursue. Evolution
has programmed us to be selfish and cruel, so naturalness is no
reason to value what we care about. Beyond a few basic biological
needs, there seems to be no limit to what humans can desire.
Variety and diversity are fundamental conditions for evolution. The
human invention of language generated an explosion of possibilities.
For humans, existence precedes essence — who we are is determined by
AR Facts shape our
choices — contra existentialism.
2017 December 22
Theory of Everything
Any TOE must fit gravity into the
quantum theory so that gravitons behave collectively like curved
spacetime. String theory posits that gravitons and other particles
are tiny vibrating strings. But the five known versions of string
theory are all perturbative — they break down in some regimes.
In 1995, Edward Witten discovered the mother of all string
theories. He found various indications that the perturbative string
theories fit together into a theory he dubbed M-theory.
1997, Juan Maldacena discovered the AdS/CFT correspondence, which
gives a complete definition of M-theory for the special case of AdS
spacetime geometries. For such imaginary worlds, physicists can
describe processes at all energies, including black hole formation
M-theory is the leading TOE candidate. But
its strings and the compactified spatial dimensions that they
wriggle in are 10^15 times smaller than our experiments can resolve.
And some macroscopic signatures of the theory, such as cosmic
strings and supersymmetry, have not shown up.
Brexit — Departmental Disarray
UK secretary of state David Davis presides over
the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) with about 600
employees. But there is funding for an additional 143, and 44% of
the staff plan to leave within the next year. Around 9% of them are leaving every quarter, 4 times the civil service average and the
highest in Whitehall, except for the Cabinet Office.
Brexit — Impact Reports
MPs were left wondering why they bothered after 39 DExEU
sectoral reports were finally placed in the public domain. The
Commons Brexit select committee published them following weeks of
wrangling with the government.
The reports offer the insights
that all sectors of the economy rely on electricity, that Boeing and
Airbus manufacture aircraft, that postal services are visible and
valued by members of the public and businesses, and that space is a
DExEU spokesman: "Our analysis is not, nor
has it ever been, a series of impact assessments examining the
quantitative impact of the UK's exit on the 58 sectors. We are
undertaking a comprehensive programme of analytical work."
Brexit — Second Referendum
I have long believed that
referendums diminish democracies rather than empower them. In the UK,
our representative system allows us to avoid them. We elect and
pay our MPs to act on our behalf.
In most countries, if
referendums are to be binding, they are held with a supermajority
requirement. In the House of Commons, a two-thirds majority is
required for a general election to be called outside the fixed term
of a parliament. These supermajorities are an acknowledgment that a
simple majority is not enough to license significant societal
change, and to ensure legitimacy.
But as with nearly
everything connected with Brexit, none of this was thought through.
No supermajority requirement was built in, and three groups with a
material interest in the outcome — 16‑17 year olds, a large
percentage of expatriates, and EU citizens working and paying tax in
the UK — were not allowed to vote. Also, the poll was far too binary
and bereft of detail.
Even with these negatives, I have up
until now been against the idea of a second referendum. But I am
coming round to the idea. A second referendum could be avoided by a
2017 December 21
The Republican tax bill rewards wealth.
It is designed to ensure that corporate shareholders and private
business owners can pocket more US national income each year, before
passing it onto their children, with only the flimsiest economic
rationale to justify this.
The danger posed by accumulated
wealth is that when the rate of return on capital assets exceeds the
rate of economic growth, inequality is likely to increase. Growing
inequality paves the way for moneyed interests to prevail —
Jon Wade et al.
Water disappeared from the Martian
surface soon after its formation. Although Mars was lost some water
to space, the nature of its crust suggests that hydration reactions
led to sequestration of the crust.
Our calculations suggest
that over 9% by volume of the Martian mantle may contain hydrous
mineral species as a consequence of surface reactions, compared to
about 4% by volume of the Earth mantle. Martian crust is unlike
terrestrial crust, which becomes denser on dehydration, so early
Martian crust was buried under a lithosphere comprising a single
tectonic plate, with only the warmer, lower crust involved in mantle
The buried crust provided a sink for hydrospheric
water. On the early Earth, the upper mantle was less hydrated and
water was retained close to its surface. The water allowed the
evolution of life.
Joseph Conrad was feted in his lifetime as
the greatest writer of English-language fiction. His most widely
read novel, Heart of Darkness, is reset in the Vietnam war in the
movie Apocalypse Now.
Conrad's leading characters are almost
all white males, his women often little more than plot points.
All that Boy's Own stuff about courage and cowardice and honour and
the sea was far removed in sensibility and time from the raw
material of modern fiction.
Born in 1857 into the Polish
gentry of Russian Ukraine, Conrad was orphaned as a teenager and
eventually settled in England, where he rose through the ranks of
the merchant marine to become a captain. Long passages on clippers
to Australia, a stint on a tramp steamer sailing out of Singapore,
and a hellish cruise up and down the Congo river furnished the raw
experiences for his novels.
"Conrad promoted the values (as
he imagined them) of the szlachta [Polish landed gentry]
and the sailing ship; the dreams of the depressive who at once
depended on and doubted them; and the self-critical awareness of the
white man who traveled overseas and saw the limits of his own
society, even if he didn't enter into the possibilities of others."
2017 December 20
America vs China
People's Daily Online
The new US national security
strategy labels China as a rival power seeking to undermine US
national interests. The "America First" policy is all about
increasing competition between countries, and is based on the old
way of thinking that competition rather than cooperation defines the
current global environment.
The United States has not given
up its hegemonic ambitions and will do everything it can do to try
to ensure that world powers rise under the United States, and not
with it and never above it. It is determined to try to make the
global system better serve its own interests, rather than the
interests of the global community.
The strategy signals a
return to the dark time when zero-sum games defined world affairs.
It overemphasizes the competitive dimension of international
politics, and fails to lay out a road map to expand the space for
cooperation. The result is likely to be counterproductive to the
goal of making America great again.
The economies of China
and the United States are more complementary than competitive. In
2016, the volume of bilateral trade between the two countries
exceeded $550 billion, with two-way investment surpassing $200
billion. China remains committed to world peace, global development,
and international order.
Putting its own national interests
above the interests of the international community is selfish and
will isolate the United States. America should accept the rise of
China. It is high time for the United States to abandon its zero-sum
mentality and work with China on a common goal of prosperity and
progress for all.
China and the United States offer starkly
different visions for the future of global affairs. China has laid
out a vision and approach that features openness, inclusiveness, and
win-win cooperation. China is on the right side of history.
May vs Putin
Theresa May has accused the Kremlin of
interference in British democracy. Vladimir Putin detests NATO and
EU influence in countries that were formerly Soviet territory.
Undermining that influence is his goal.
The Brexit delusion
is that enslavement by Brussels inhibits a UK return to the global
first division. In the EU, Britain has benefited from aggregating
its middleweight power with Germany, France, and 25 other nations.
That is not a Brussels empire but a model of peaceful, collaborative
power without historical equal.
Brexit has already fractured
an alliance that will be hard to repair. May will never be a friend
of Putin, but she is committed to a policy he would choose for her
General relativity works well when
the quantum effects of spacetime are small, but when they become
large we need a theory of quantum gravity. We have several candidate
theories but none of them is generally accepted. Here are ten
1 In quantum
gravity we expect that spacetime will fluctuate wildly even in the
absence of matter. In the quantum world, the vacuum never rests, and
neither do space and time.
Quantum spacetime could be full of microscopic black holes. It could
have wormholes or give rise to baby universes, which are small
bubbles that pinch off from the mother universe.
3 And since this is a quantum theory,
spacetime could both create a baby universe and not create one at
the same time. The fabric of spacetime may be made of discrete
components that only look continuous at macroscopic scales.
4 In most approaches to quantum gravity,
spacetime is made of strings, loops, qubits, or some kind of
spacetime atoms. The individual constituents can only be resolved
when probed with extremely high energies, far beyond what we can
achieve on Earth.
5 In some of
the condensed-matter based approaches, spacetime can be elastic or
have viscosity. This might lead to observable consequences. We are
looking for such effects by studying messenger particles that reach
us from far away in the cosmos.
Spacetime might affect how light travels through it. It might not be
entirely transparent, or light of different colors might travel at
different speeds to cause dispersion. This too could be observable
in future experiments.
Spacetime fluctuations might destroy the ability of light from
distant sources to create interference patterns. This effect has
been looked for and not found so far in the visible range.
8 In regions of strong curvature, time
might turn into space. This could happen inside black holes or at
the big bang. In such a case, what we now know as a spacetime with
3D space and 1D time might transform into 4D Euclidean space.
9 Spacetime could be nonlocally
connected with tiny shortcuts spanning throughout the universe. Such nonlocal connections should exist if
structure is non-geometric, like a graph or network. In such
cases proximity is not fundamental but only derived, and it should
be possible for very distant places to be connected by accident.
10 To combine quantum theory with
gravity, we might have to update quantum theory. This might open
entirely new possibilities.
2017 December 19
The Germans are right: Economics is — or
should be — part of moral philosophy.
Successful politicians have to do more than just deliver economic
growth. They also need to offer voters a vision of the economy in
which virtue is rewarded and vice is punished. Since 2008, too many
politicians have lost it.
Until the financial crisis, a
free-market economy was held to reward effort and success and to
spread opportunity. Globalization was defended as a moral project,
since it involved reducing inequality and poverty across the world.
After the financial crisis, the globalists began to lose the
moral arguments. The fact that banks were bailed out as living
standards stagnated offended many voters. The door was opened for a
populist to say the system is rigged.
The economy is not just
about growth. It is also about justice.
UK Defence — F-35 Costs
The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is one of the
most expensive projects in military history. The UK defence
committee said it was unacceptable for the Ministry of Defence to
keep parliament and the public in the dark about the costs.
The UK has bought 14 F-35 jets to fly from its new
aircraft carriers and plans to buy a further 124. A National Audit
Office report put the total UK cost of the program up to 2026 at
£9.1 billion. The MoD declined to offer even a rough figure beyond
The defence committee views the MoD failure to provide
cost estimates as unsatisfactory. It called on the MoD to provide
biannual updates on the F-35 program, including details of progress
on various identified problems.
In new work, ChunJun Cao and Sean
Carroll suggest that spacetime and gravity could emerge from quantum
Twenty years ago, Juan Maldacena discovered his
AdS/CFT duality between a theory of gravity for a volume of space
and a quantum field theory for the surface of the volume. Since
then, others have shown that the area of certain surfaces within
such a volume is related to the amount of quantum entanglement
between different regions in it. Changing the amount of entanglement
in the surface creates or destroys spacetime in the volume.
Cao and Carroll have tried to extract the kind of spacetime around
us — mostly flat but with small gravitational undulations — from
standard quantum mechanics.
They used a Hilbert space split
into tiny parts, each one corresponding to a point in 3D space, and
assumed that the closer these points are to each other, the greater
the entanglement between them. They also assumed that increasing the
entanglement in one region decreases it elsewhere, and vice versa.
They show that the equations governing the dynamics of entanglement
are similar to the equations of general relativity.
words, spacetime and gravity emerge from entanglement.
US National Security Strategy
The White House
Putting America first is the duty of our
government and the foundation for effective US leadership in the
world. Four vital national interests form the backbone of this
● Protect the
homeland, the American people, and the American way of life
● Promote American
● Preserve peace
● Advance American
This NSS is guided by a return to principled
realism. The strategy acknowledges the central role of power in
world affairs, affirms that sovereign states are the best hope for a
peaceful world, and clearly defines US national interests. It is
grounded in the knowledge that promoting American values is key to
spreading peace and prosperity around the globe.
Full report (68 pages)
Neuer Polizeipanzer in Leipzig: Das
Monogrammsticken der Sitzrückenlehnen ist ein mit Eichenlaub
und mit stilisierten Adlerschwingen flankiertes Wappen,
zusammen mit dem Frakturschriftzug
"Spezialeinsatzkommando Sachsen" — eine altbewährte Ästhetik.
that the value of UK GDP is
around 0.9% lower than
was possible if the UK had
to stay in the EU.
That equates to almost
exactly £350 million
a week lost to the
think the key national priority
right now is stopping Brexit.
I would put it above every-
thing else right now
for the country."
"The biggest idea in human
history is probably the
The EU has
the highest standard of living
in human history. People
longer, happier, healthier,
saner, safer, gentler lives than
anywhere else in the world ..
The biggest ideas in human
come from a fierce
belief in human possibility."
"To allow the market
mechanism to be the sole
director of the
human beings and their
natural environment ..
result in the
demolition of society."
2017 December 18
Brexit — Commons Statement
The guidelines published by President Tusk on
Friday point to the shared desire of the EU and the UK to make rapid
progress on an implementation period, with formal talks beginning
During this strictly time-limited implementation
period which we will now begin to negotiate, we would not be in the
single market or the customs union, as we will have left the EU. But
we would propose that our access to one another's markets would
continue as now, while we prepare and implement the new processes
and new systems that will underpin our future partnership.
During this period we intend to register new arrivals from the EU as
preparation for our future immigration system. And we will prepare
for our future independent trade policy by negotiating — and where
possible signing — trade deals with third countries, which could
come into force after the conclusion of the implementation period.
AR I fear this goes far beyond what
the EU can accept.
Born in 1749, Johann Wolfgang Goethe
became the national poet of a resurgent Germany. His collected works
fill 42 volumes. A new biography by Rüdiger Safranski is billed as
the first definitive biography in a generation.
portrays Goethe as a genius who was constantly reinventing himself.
Goethe revolted against the austere Lutheranism of his boyhood and
was a stranger to guilt. He believed nature was the only true
Goethe lived in Weimar and hero-worshiped Napoleon.
After the great German defeat at nearby Jena in 1806, Goethe was
impatient with people who "bewail an entity that has supposedly been
lost, an entity that not a soul in Germany has ever seen in his
life" — their freedom.
Friedrich Nietzsche: "Goethe is the
last German before whom I feel reverence."
AR I greatly enjoyed
of Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Heidegger.
2017 December 17
1 Populism is neither the authentic part
of modern democratic politics nor a kind of pathology caused by
irrational citizens. It is the permanent shadow of representative
2 Not everyone who
criticizes elites is a populist. In addition to being anti-elitist,
populists are anti-pluralist. They claim that they and they alone
represent the people.
can represent the common good as willed by the people. But what
matters for populists is a symbolic representation of the real
people from which they then deduce the correct policy.
4 While populists often call for
referenda, such exercises are not about initiating open democratic
debates. Populists simply wish to be confirmed in what they have
already determined the real will be the people to be.
5 Populists can govern in line with
their commitment to the idea that only they represent the people.
They will engage in occupying the state, mass clientelism and
corruption, and the suppression of a critical civil society.
6 Populists are a real danger to
democracy. But that does not mean one should not engage them in
political debate. Talking with populists is not the same as talking
7 Populism is not
a corrective to liberal democracy in the sense of bringing politics
closer to the people or reasserting popular sovereignty. But it can
be useful in showing that parts of the population are
2017 December 16
As a professor, I believe academics should
think afresh about how we train our graduate students. Doctoral
study should not be aimed purely at creating academics. Ours is a
connected globe, and we need to reform doctoral education with this
Tests show that college students leave college
unready for decent jobs. But humans are not things. The role of
doctoral study is to equip academically very smart students to be
many things, potentially, over the course of their lives.
Professors are decathletes of the mind. A marketing professional
would describe them as expert speakers, media design technicians,
project managers, and more. We design and run research projects, run
budgets, hire staff, build networks, and stump for funding.
Faculty life requires many more practical skills than the title
Doctor of Philosophy suggests. We must be more honest about this. We
need our best and brightest to make their knowledge useful to the
world and to society.
The universe is made of matter and not
antimatter, even though the laws of nature appear symmetric between
the two. It seems to have about five times as much dark matter as
all the normal matter we see. And we need dark energy to add up to
more than all the rest combined. Three puzzles — the neutrino might
explain them all.
The standard model of particle physics has
six flavors of quarks and leptons, their antiparticles, the gauge
bosons, and the Higgs, but leaves the mystery of why the particle
masses have the values they do. The standard model of cosmology has
an inflationary big bang, matter and not antimatter, and a history
of structure formation that leads to the modern universe, but leaves
the mysteries of dark matter and dark energy.
oscillations — where neutrinos flip between flavors as they fly through space — imply that neutrinos have a small mass. We see
neutrinos with left spin and anti-neutrinos with right
spin. A symmetry would give an equal balance of left and right
spins. The asymmetry suggests that neutrinos are not normal Dirac
fermions but Majorana fermions, which are their own antiparticles.
Normal left and right neutrinos might both have a mass of around
100 GeV. A heavy particle could break the symmetry to give a right
neutrino with a huge mass of around 10^15 GeV and a left neutrino
with a tiny mass of around 0.01 eV. The huge-mass neutrinos could be
the cold dark matter candidates known as Wimpzillas. The tiny-mass
neutrinos could be the ones we detect. More:
vacuum energy of the universe suggests a cosmological
constant of around (10^19 GeV)^4, which is too big by about 120
orders of magnitude. But if you replace 10^19 GeV with the neutrino mass of
0.01 eV, you get a number that matches nicely. This
— The broken symmetry gives more
matter than antimatter in the universe. Mixed-state neutrinos
can create more leptons than anti-leptons in the neutrino
sector, giving rise to a cosmic asymmetry.
double beta decay would tell us that neutrinos have Majorana
properties. Such decay, if it exists, has a very long lifetime, but
future experiments should be able to measure it.
In the standard model, matter and
antimatter particles carry opposite electrical charge. When matter
and antimatter particles collide, they annihilate in a flash of
radiation. The big bang should have produced equal amounts of matter
and antimatter. But a small fraction of the original matter survived
to form the known universe.
Matter and antimatter might decay
differently. This would violate charge-parity (CP) symmetry, which
conserves the laws of physics if matter particles swap with their
antiparticles (charge) in mirror reflection (parity). Many
physicists think CP is violated in the neutrino sector — explaining
why we are made of matter.
2017 December 15
To taste a future without net neutrality, try
browsing the web in Beijing. Filtered by the Great Firewall of
China, some sites load with aching slowness, or not at all, and
content vanishes without warning or explanation. Most Chinese
netizens simply gravitate to the Chinese counterparts of Facebook,
Google, and Twitter, which come with heavy government surveillance
Markets vs Democracy
Democracy and capitalism seem increasingly
incompatible. Global capitalism has escaped the bounds of the
postwar mixed economy that had reconciled dynamism with security.
Wealth has crowded out citizenship, producing extreme inequality and
The great prophet of this
development was Karl Polanyi, who saw that market society could only
exist because of deliberate government action defining property
rights, terms of labor, trade, and finance. Today, we see a push for
deregulated trade and the dismantling of labor market safeguards to
increase profits for multinational corporations.
born in 1886 in Vienna to an illustrious Jewish family. In 1904, he
began studies at the University of Budapest. After WW1, he became an
economics journalist. He was a left-wing social democrat and a
lifelong skeptic of the possibility that a capitalist society would
ever tolerate a hybrid economic system.
Living in Red Vienna,
Polanyi saw that an island of municipal socialism could not survive
larger market turbulence and rising fascism. In 1933, he moved to
London and found work sponsored by Oxford University. There he
watched history demonstrate that an unrestrained free market leads
to democratic breakdown.
After WW2, Polanyi worked in
America. He showed that the free market is no natural condition and
that democracy cannot survive an excessively free market. Today he
would say Brexit and Trump show capitalism has won and democracy has
Democrat defeats tainted
candidate backed by Trump
for Alabama Senator
Rebels defy May government
to force meaningful
Brexit deal before too late.
In my 1996 novel
I mooted laser battlestations
N and S poles of the
Moon to fire off at
ANN Helps NASA Find Planet
The NASA Kepler Space Telescope has discovered an
eighth planet circling Kepler-90, a Sun-like star 2545 light years
from Earth. Kepler-90i, a hot, rocky planet that orbits its star
once every 14.4 days, was found using machine learning from Google.
A Google artificial neural network (ANN) sifted through Kepler
data and found weak transit signals from a previously missed eighth
planet orbiting Kepler-90. About 30% larger than Earth, Kepler-90i
is so close to its star that its average surface temperature exceeds
700 K, like the hot side of Mercury. The outermost planet,
Kepler-90h, orbits as far from Kepler-90 as Earth does from the Sun.
The Kepler dataset consists of 35 000 possible planetary
signals. After gazing at one patch of space for 4 years, Kepler now
switches its field of view every 80 days.
2017 December 14
We all know men who try to seduce a lot of
women and often enough succeed. In the past, we accepted them as
part of the normal order of things. No one we knew disapproved of
premarital sex, homosexuality, or any private activity between
Whatever lies ahead of us, new rules
couched in the language of safety and respect will regulate us. You will have to seek verbal consent before you kiss a woman or touch
her in a sensitive place, or anywhere. Anyone can adapt to this new
There has never been a good defense of sleeping with
interns or junior employees. Such eroticism sours everything it
touches and creates a poisonous dynamic for all workers. The logical
outcome is adoption of affirmative consent as the norm governing
relations between the sexes.
Sex is an intractable conundrum
rather than a solvable problem. There may be no good way to render
safe and tractable the will to domination and subordination that
feminists see as bound up in sexual desire. Nothing is so dangerous
as power that is not acknowledged.
2017 December 13
Russia vs America
United States intelligence officers agree
that Russians interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Russian hackers breached the servers of the Democratic National
Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They
leaked the data they found, they probed the voting infrastructure of
various US states, and they quietly posted divisive content on
Facebook. Their aim was to embarrass and damage Hillary Clinton, to
sow dissension, and to show that democracy in America is at least as
corrupt as in Russia.
In October 2016, the Department of
Homeland Security and the Office of the Director of National
Intelligence said they were confident that the Russian government
had directed the compromises of emails from US political
organizations with the aim of interfering with the US election
At the 2007 Munich Conference on Security Policy,
Russian president Vladimir Putin explained his motivation. Two
decades earlier, the world was ideologically and economically split,
and its security was assured by the strategic balance of two
superpowers. But a unipolar world dominated only by America had
nothing to do with democracy. The new order was both unacceptable
and ineffective. The time had come to rethink the entire
architecture of global security.
Putin has spent the decade
since that speech making sure that the United States can never again
maneuver unilaterally without encountering friction. He evidently
believes that in their attempts to promote democracy, Americans are
The victory of Donald Trump seemed to be a
great coup for Putin. But it left us all in danger.
2017 December 12
In Arthur C. Clarke's 1973 science fiction classic
Rendezvous with Rama, astronomers detect a cylindrical
interstellar object entering the solar system. At first they think
is an asteroid, but then they find it is an alien spacecraft.
Science fact, 2017: Astronomers thought it was a comet or an
asteroid from within the solar system. But after studying its orbit
and discovering its long, cylindrical shape, they find it is neither
and has come from interstellar space.
Oumuamua was discovered
by a team at the University of Hawaii in October. It seems to have a
cylindrical form, hundreds of meters long and perhaps tens in
diameter, that has never been seen in space before.
— up to 90 km/s — suggests that it will continue its voyage back
into interstellar space. Six weeks of study shows it is not made of
ice and is dark red in color. SETI researchers will seek to detect
evidence of alien technology in its EM emissions.
Harvard astrophysicist Avi Loeb: "If this object is natural in
origin, there should be many more like it in the solar system .. and
even if most of them are natural, perhaps one of them will be found
to be of artificial origin, some space device or junk from an alien
NASA Moon Base
President Trump has directed NASA to aim
for the Moon: "This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave
our footprint. We will establish a foundation for an eventual
mission to Mars and perhaps, someday, to many worlds beyond."
US vice president Mike Pence said a strategic military presence
on the Moon will "enhance our national security and our capacity to
provide for the common defense of the people of the United States of
2017 December 11
Descrying the Divine
Where landscapes are untapped and
unmanageable, where survival and well-being are irrational factors,
state power becomes a sanctuary. This applied everywhere in the
ancient world and still applies today in Russia, with its huge,
poorly developed, sparsely and unevenly populated space. Above all,
the king must be able to communicate with those powers that the
human being cannot control or grasp rationally. He has to
communicate with the divine. Putin is our president.
AR The One.
Germany — Coalition Options
German chancellor Angela Merkel
spent two months mulling a potential government coalition — then the
Free Democrats walked out. The Social Democrats decided to enter
talks — then SPD leader Martin Schulz said he wants a United States
of Europe by 2025. Talks could continue well into 2018.
Foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel said last week that Europeans will
have to stand up to the Trump administration and accept that America
sees Europe as a competitor. He floated a new detente with Russia
but ignored a promised increase in German defense spending. The
world is waiting.
Die Mühlen der Demokratie mahlen langsam aber
Defending the Faith
Prince Charles is the heir apparent
while the Queen remains the UK sovereign. His coronation is likely
to raise questions about institutional links between church,
monarchy, and parliament. The monarch is crowned and anointed by the
Archbishop of Canterbury at Westminster Abbey.
One in four
countries worldwide had a state religion in 2011. Of those, only the
UK and Iran have religious leaders in their legislatures by right.
In the UK, 26 Church of England bishops have reserved seats in the
House of Lords. The UK monarch is supreme governor of the Church of
England and Defender of the Faith.
From a new report by the National Secular Society: "The voices
of religious privilege are loud and their vested interests are
strong. But .. if Britain is to become a modern state rather than
one in which parliament continues to cleave to its medieval past,
then the separation of church and state needs to be part of the
AR Rebrand Britain
the United Sovereign Secular Republic.
Brexit — Second Referendum
Conservatives bent on delivering what they think is the "will of
the people" are deluded if they expect any thanks. Brexit is a Tory
project and most voters now think the talks are going badly. The
Conservative reputation will be hard to win back.
believe that a trade agreement can be completed in two years. Voters
will likely feel as if they are still in the EU by the next
election. To avoid annihilation, the Tories should try to get a good
deal and then put it to a public vote.
A new poll finds that more than half of
voters support a referendum on the EU exit package. The government
is in disarray and disagrees on most issues related to Brexit. The
only way to resolve this is to put the decision back to the people.
Today I publish a bill that aims to give voters the final say on
Brexit. The government would let the people choose between its
negotiated deal and the option of reversing article 50 and remaining
in the EU. This honours the will of the people.
AR Do it.
2017 December 10
I think science will hit the buffers at some
point. The question of how far science can go partly depends on how
we define complexity. Atoms and astronomical phenomena can be quite
basic, but everything in between gets tricky.
Most complex of all are living things. Everything is made of
atoms, and obeys the laws of quantum physics. But even if those
equations could be solved for immense aggregates of atoms, living
systems manifest emergent properties that are best understood in
terms of new concepts.
We can expect huge advances on the
small, the large, and the complex. But efforts to understand complex
systems, such as our own brains, might well hit limits. And
physicists might never understand the bedrock nature of space and
time because the mathematics is just too hard.
thinking has led to culture and science. But this activity will
probably be a brief precursor to the more powerful intellects of the
post-human era. A full understanding of physical reality need not be
within our grasp.
The four forces of
nature, the particles, and the phenomena they explain. The atomic
and nuclear interactions are unified
in the standard model using
quantum field theory. Gravity is described by general relativity.
But QFT and GR are incompatible without a quantum theory of gravity.
Ode to Joy
"We must build a kind of
United States of Europe"
"Trump is a chump .. he is
ignorant and thinks the world
started the day he was elected,
and so he is easily gamed."
Thomas L. Friedman
Person of the Year
2017-10-04: Erik Verlinde suggests that gravity emerges from
entropy. There are well known relationships between thermodynamics
and GR. The laws of thermodynamics emerge from statistical
mechanics, and perhaps gravity emerges similarly.
uses ideas from string theory to relate quantum information theory
and the emergence of gravity and spacetime. The basic idea is that
fundamental qubits possess temperature and entropy, and that
everything else about gravitation can be derived from that.
He says we may need to work with qubits to understand gravity.
Entropy is the total number of bits of information in a system, or
qubits in a quantum world. QFT describes how the surface area of a
black hole event horizon measured in qubits is proportional to its
He says entangled qubits may explain dark matter.
Entanglement increases as the universe expands. The entropy of the
universe from photons is about 10^90 bits. From the size of the
cosmological horizon, he says it should be 10^120 bits. This is all very
2017 December 9
Big Old Black Hole
The discovery of a supermassive black hole
in the early universe is helping us resolve big questions. The black
hole dates back to 690 million years after the Big Bang (My ABB).
Reionization, the process that defogged the universe, was about half
complete at that time. The black hole already weighed 780 million
Black holes grow when cosmic matter falls into
them, generating light and heat. At some point, the radiation
emitted by material falling in carries out so much momentum that it
blocks new stuff from falling in, creating a speed limit for black
hole growth called the Eddington rate. Extrapolating back at the
Eddington rate, collapsing clouds in the early universe gave birth
to big baby black holes with thousands of solar masses.
earlier, when protons and electrons first formed hydrogen atoms, the
neutral atoms absorbed UV light from the first stars. In time, young
stars or quasars emitted enough light to reionize these atoms and
dissipate the cosmic fog. Reionization was largely complete by
around 1 Gy ABB.
The gas around the newly discovered quasar
is about half neutral, half ionized. So there, at least,
reionization was only half done. We could use more data.
2017 December 8
United States of Europe
I want a new constitutional treaty to
establish the United States of Europe — a Europe that is no threat
to its member states, but a beneficial addition.
will draft this treaty in close cooperation with the civil society
and the people. Its results will then be submitted to all member
states. Any state that does not ratify the treaty will automatically
leave the EU.
We need not a European austerity diktat but
investments in a eurozone budget. We need a European finance
minister who curbs the race to the bottom in tax policy and ends tax
avoidance. We need a European framework for a minimum wage that ends
We have not yet answered the question what
social democracy stands for in the 21st century.
"The Federated Republic of Europe — the United States of Europe —
that is what must be. National autonomy no longer suffices. Economic
evolution demands the abolition of national frontiers. If Europe is
to remain split into national groups, then Imperialism will
recommence its work. Only a Federated Republic of Europe can give
peace to the world."
Brexit — Sufficient Progress
Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker met
in Brussels early today to sign a 15-page progress report that will
let EU negotiators recommend opening a second phase of talks on
● Citizen rights: EU
citizens living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU will be
able to claim permanent residency status through transparent, smooth
and streamlined procedures. Primacy of the ECJ interpretation of EU
citizen rights laws will continue indefinitely.
● Irish border: A
fallback provision to avoid a hard border between the Republic of
Ireland and Northern Ireland ensures full alignment with the EU
single market and customs union. The EU has accepted UK assurances
and talks can move on.
● Divorce settlement:
The UK will pay into the EU budgets for 2019 and 2020 as if it had
remained in the bloc. It will also contribute its share of the
financing for any EU liabilities incurred before the end of 2020. The UK can expect a net bill of
2017 December 7
Trump — Courage
For decades, the international community has
tacitly acknowledged that Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish
state. Now US President Donald Trump wants to move the US embassy to
The previous refusal of US administrations to
recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has brought peace no
closer. Experts warn that the Muslim world will never accept this
and Muslim leaders warn that it will end the peace process. What
Trump has made it clear that the
recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the transfer
of the embassy to Jerusalem is not a preliminary decision regarding
the final status of the city and the future borders between Israel
and a Palestinian state.
Israel will never renounce Jerusalem as
its capital. The Arab campaign against Jerusalem as the capital of
the Jewish state is only part of the Arab struggle against the
reality of Israel. Anyone who does not even acknowledge its
existence has no right to protest against Jerusalem as its capital.
Trump is right: Twenty years of denial have not brought peace
closer. Time to move on.
Brexit — Lessons
For the UK, Brexit talks have been a
humiliating rendezvous with reality. Rule Britannia platitudes
fizzled on contact with the facts of life:
1 A fundamental
asymmetry unbalances the negotiation. The cost of failure is
proportionately much higher for the UK than for the EU27.
Westminster politicians have not grasped that the EU is a union
built on laws. A bespoke deal translates into German as cherry
3 The sovereign right to wave goodbye to
a morass of regulatory agencies is the sovereignty of the person
shipwrecked on a desert island.
4 Access to the single market for a
transitional period after departure will oblige the UK to continue
to respect all the rules.
5 The only framework on offer for a
future trade deal will be one that complies with the principle that benefits are restricted to members.
decided unilaterally to leave the EU. The EU27 will now decide what
agreement it is prepared to make with a third country.
Eat dirt, Brexit blowhards.
A Russian Soyuz/Fregat launch from the
Vostochny Cosmodrome failed last week.
Deputy prime minister
Dmitry Rogozin is coming under criticism.
Zero plays superhuman
chess after teaching itself from
scratch, starting from random
play, given only the game
in 24 hours.
Buy now for Xmas
2017 December 6
Islamist crazies will see this as a declaration of war.
Brexit — Outline Betrayal
The capitulation of the Brexiteers is striking.
They are displaying all the iron discipline of a sect that believes
it is tantalisingly close to reaching its holy grail. For them, all
that matters is to drag the country across the legal finishing line
in March 2019. Then there is no turning back from Brexit.
reach their promised land, the Brexiteers in Westminster intend to
deliver to the UK parliament a mere "Heads of Agreement" governing
the future relations between the UK and the EU. The details of that
future relationship will be left to further negotiations. The
Brexiteers calculate that an outline deal, bereft of the invidious
content that a proper agreement would include, is the ideal document
to put to parliament.
But this is not what the British people
were promised. The government said parliament will be able to vote
on both the terms of our departure and the terms of our future
interaction with the EU. It would be a betrayal if MPs were fobbed
off with the outline of an agreement shorn of all detail.
Brexit — Crisis Warning
Brexit Secretary David Davis says Brexit will
be a change comparable with the 2008 financial crisis.
before the Brexit select committee where he said Whitehall had
carried out no Brexit impact assessments, Davis said of Brexit: "It
will have an effect. The assessment of that effect is not as
straightforward as people imagine. I'm not a fan of economic models
because they have all proven wrong. When you have a paradigm change
— as happened in 2008 with the financial crisis — all the models
The 2008 financial crisis cost the UK economy up
to £7.4 trillion and led to a decade of austerity.
AR Abandon this hideous farce before HMS
2017 December 5
The Irish Question
Ireland is proving to be in a much
stronger political position than Britain. The UK is being forced to
accept what it claimed to be unacceptable, not because Ireland has
suddenly become a global superpower but because it has the
unflinching support of EU member states, the European parliament,
and the EU negotiating team. There might be a lesson in there
somewhere for a country facing a future without the allies it has
long taken for granted.
The human brain is a pudding of some 100
billion neurons and 100 trillion connections between them, packed
into a space of about 1.5 liters. Language and cooperation likely
worked together to drive the evolutionary growth of our brains.
Edward O. Wilson argues that Homo sapiens is a species that
ranks as eusocial, like bees, ants, and so on. We cooperate and
display group loyalty, to the point where the group essentially
operates as a unit of evolutionary selection.
waged a public battle against the importance of inclusive fitness,
which researchers have long cited to explain such behaviors as
altruism, homosexuality, even suicide. Wilson says the math is
2017 December 4
Brexit — No Deal on Trade Talks
UK prime minister Theresa May and European
Commission president Jean Claude Juncker say progress has been made
but differences remain.
Juncker: "It was not possible to
reach complete agreement today."
Apparently the UK is
prepared to accept that Northern Ireland may remain in the EU
customs union and single market in all but name. But the DUP will
not back any agreement that threatens the territorial integrity of
the UK. And Scottish, Welsh, and London leaders want an offer of
similar exceptional status after Brexit.
Surrounded by books has been a main
circumstance of my long life. Now 93, I have a library of perhaps
18,000 books in my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. I was born
in Budapest, Hungary, in a home that housed many books.
about 1500 a new age began — the Age of Books. A golden age
followed. Today, few people know that the modern age, the Age of
Books, is now passing.
The modern age brought progress and a
transition from aristocracies to democracies. Public opinion had a
heyday in most of Europe and in America corresponding to the heyday
of the Age of Books. The health of democracies depended on the
existence of educated readers.
As a boy, I had an appetite
for history and literature. I saw that history was more of an art
than a science and, later, that science was but a part of history. I
survived the National Socialist and then the Russian conquest of
Hungary in 1944 and 1945, and fled my native country illegally in
I landed in New York penniless and forlorn, and became
an assistant lecturer in history at Columbia University. There I was
surprised at how many American students hardly read books at all.
Over roughly 50 years, I wrote and had many books published.
Many were published in multiple editions, translated and published
around the world. My own library grew, and we added a large
hexagonal library to our house. Perhaps this was my most precious
Today, the custom of reading and the numbers of
readers have declined. The Age of Books died with television and the
2017 December 3
Neoliberalism is broken. The global economic
system that drove growth and technological progress from 1989 to
2008 led to financial catastrophe. Now many people see the elites
getting richer and know their kids will be poorer.
alliance of the elite and the mob is emerging in which xenophobia,
violent misogyny, and racism support political power. The far right
and the conservative parties are converging around national
neoliberalism. It will not work.
We must stop nudging and
forcing market behavior into the lives of people and start letting
them express their human and collaborative impulse. We need a new
economic model with a narrative of hope and a social movement to
fight for it.
In the UK, Labour developed a narrative beyond
politics. We need to go further to gain cultural hegemony in the
wider society. We must offer a clear economic alternative to
● End austerity.
● Regulate the labor market to
promote the interests of workers.
● Build new homes for young
people on a massive scale.
● Use state intervention to
promote an innovative, high wage private sector.
● Modernize and extend the
● Build a utopia based on
work, with state provision of cheap or free basic goods and
● End the tyranny of trade
deals over social justice.
We need a new concept of
citizenship in Europe. It is hard to defend migration using the EU
concept of citizenship as primarily economic. The constitution of
Europe is framed around an economic system that no longer works.
Neoliberalism is the disenchantment of politics by economics.
Right wing populism is the re-enchantment of politics by
nationalism, racism, nostalgia, and misogyny. Radical social
democracy must re-enchant politics by social justice and a more
fully human concept of citizenship.
Minus the red balls, there is a lot of truth in this
2017 December 2
Math and Physics
Minhyong Kim has found a new way of
looking for patterns in the world of rational numbers. His vision is
based in physics — rational solutions are like light rays.
Rational solutions to equations are like puzzle pieces falling
perfectly into place. They are the subject of many of the most
famous conjectures in mathematics. We often wish to find rational
numbers that solve Diophantine equations — polynomial equations with
The more symmetric an object is, the
easier it is to study. We would like to study Diophantine equations
in a setting with more symmetry than the one where the problem
naturally occurs. Then we can harness the newly relevant symmetries
to track down the rational points we seek.
Numbers that have
particular kinds of symmetry relationships form groups. We use the
properties of a group to understand all the numbers it contains. But
the set of rational solutions to an equation has no symmetry and
forms no group.
A space is any set of points that has
geometric or topological structure. In general relativity, we think
of each spacetime configuration as a point in a space of all
spacetime configurations. Gauge theory has to do with fields that we
layer on top of physical space to describe how forces change as you
move through space.
Consider a beam of light. We imagine the
light moving through a higher-dimensional space of fields. In this
space, light follows the path that minimizes the amount of time
required to go from A to B.
These larger spaces of spaces
that come up in physics feature additional symmetries that are not
present in any of the spaces they represent. These symmetries draw
attention to specific points, such as the time-minimizing path for
light. Constructed in another way in another context, such
symmetries might emphasize other kinds of points — like the points
corresponding to rational solutions to equations.
theory has something like spacetime, and it also offers a way of
drawing paths and constructing a space of all possible paths. From
this basic correspondence, Kim is working out a scheme in which the
problem of finding the trajectory of light and that of finding
rational solutions to Diophantine equations are two facets of the
same problem — as he explained last week in Heidelberg, Germany.
AR Some 27 years ago in Heidelberg,
I published a pamphlet listing advanced math and physics texts and
emphasizing the amazingly fruitful interaction of math and physics
over recent centuries.
2017 December 1
Six impossible things before breakfast:
1 The British system
of free trade made Britain and the world richer. The EU system that
replaced it has constrained economic growth.
● The volume of world trade is twice
as high, relative to global output, now as at its peak before WW1.
Global output per head rose at 1.3% a year between 1870 and 1914,
well below the 1.9% achieved between 1980 and 2008.
2 The UK can have its cake on access to
EU markets and still eat it. The EU will accept new UK
after Brexit as equivalent to its own.
● The cake would either nullify UK
regulatory freedom or subvert EU regulations. The EU would surely
reject UK changes.
3 WTO members
are panting for UK leadership.
● Donald Trump is a protectionist
and the WTO has made no big trade deal since 2001.
4 The UK must soon leave the single
market and customs union in order to liberalise world trade.
● This ignores the costs of losing
favourable access to the single market and it reflects an entirely
unjustifiable belief in UK influence on global trade policy.
5 The government must instruct UK
customs to talk to member state customs agencies and work
cooperation with the EU27.
● The UK has no means to break EU27
6 The UK should not
let itself be bound by the EU negotiating mandate.
● The EU holds the cards and it
Do Brextremists really believe all six?
The Special Relationship
The British obsession about its special
relationship with America blew up the storm over Donald Trump's
Furious Brits demanded once again
that the US state visit should be expunged from the diary. If it
were not for the special relationship, the UK prime minister might
not have felt the need to condemn the US president in a public
utterance. But with a state visit on the cards she had little
France and Germany have more freedom in their US
relations without a special relationship. Angela Merkel talked about
defending European values on her visit to see the new president.
Emmanuel Macron entertained Vladimir Putin at Versailles and hosted
the Trumps at the Bastille Day parade.
A special relationship
is a lopsided arrangement that allows the UK to fantasize about
global power and influence.
Six Minutes in May
Nicholas Shakespeare brings tension to an
old story by understanding its human drama. His account of the
Norway Debate in May 1940 is a bravura performance, painting a vivid
backdrop that explains the meetings that made Churchill prime
minister two days later.
The six minutes of
the title refer to the length of the parliamentary division that
split the Tories and pushed Chamberlain to the brink. Shakespeare
brings the story to life. The story of Churchill's accession to
power on the day that Hitler's armies entered the Low Countries and
set course for France has never been infused with so much humanity.
Shakespeare's piercing account of the disastrous Norway campaign
that opens the book lays bare Churchill's failings and makes all the
more engrossing the political chaos from which he finally emerged
AR I am currently
reading the book.
AP/KCNA via KNS
Kim Jong Un with Hwasong-15 ICBM
would have been
to marry Harry
Best Bum winner Vita
Gonville and Caius):
"Though this may not quite
Cambridge First my
parents envisaged, I am
sure they are still
proud of me."
Brexit is the great national
crisis of our
times. The UK
40-year obsession with
EU is driving us all
2017 November 30
US vs NK
North Korea has tested an ICBM that could
reach anywhere in the continental United States.
Hwasong-15 adds a powerful new tool to the NK arsenal. Japanese
defensive missiles would have been ineffective against it. US
defense secretary James Mattis says North Korea can now hit
everywhere in the world.
SK president Moon Jae In: "We must
stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us
with nuclear weapons, or where the United States considers a
Trump: "This situation will be handled!"
UK vs Ireland
The ramifications of Brexit for Northern
Ireland have finally become nightly news. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar
brought the issue back to the fore when he expressed concern and
frustration over how the UK team is failing to deal with it. While
insisting there will be no hard border, the UK has flatly refused to
compromise on any of the measures, such as customs or immigration,
that would make anything but a hard border possible.
to present documents to armed men just so we can commute to work,
visit neighbours, or access everyday amenities, would be a wildly
impractical thing to demand of law-abiding citizens. The severity of
the situation may best be demonstrated by the Taoiseach having said
anything at all. He knows Irish reunification would likely prove
even more expensive than militarising the entire land border after a
Meghan Markle — half black, American,
divorced, actress — was an unlikely candidate to join the House of
Interracial marriages are on the rise in Britain. In
this sense, Harry and Meghan are following, not leading. What is
more intriguing is the question of whether more people of color will
come to feel they have a stake in the UK monarchy.
been some racist responses to the announcement. The prince has made
a clear statement against those prejudices by refusing to allow them
to affect his personal choices. He has made the royals seem more in
touch with the public.
Harry and Meghan drama should not distract us from the fact that the
monarchy is an integral part of an increasingly anachronistic
British political establishment.
2017 November 29
Physicists are looking for a more
fundamental quantum theory to replace general relativity. M-theory
could offer this deeper description. Its mathematical structure
incorporates all five versions of string theory, which connect to
each other through dualities. The string theories are also
mathematically dual to quantum field theories.
frequently answer questions that are otherwise out of reach. There
are dualities between a gauge theory and another gauge theory, or
between a string theory for weak coupling and a string theory for
strong coupling. The AdS/CFT duality between a gauge theory and a
gravitational description gave people new insights.
AdS/CFT duality connects a theory of gravity in anti-de Sitter space
to an equivalent QFT describing its gravity-free boundary.
Everything there is to know about AdS space is encoded in quantum
interactions between particles on the lower-dimensional boundary.
AdS/CFT gives physicists a holographic understanding of the quantum
nature of gravity.
Dualities in math can sometimes be
interpreted physically as consequences of dualities between two
QFTs. Imagine a web of different relationships, where the same
physics has different descriptions, revealing different properties.
In the simplest case, two descriptions might be enough, but in a
more complicated example there might be many.
QFT was constructed by starting with a classical smooth field and
then quantizing it. But that description misses a lot of things that
happen. And the same quantum theory can come from different
classical theories. Perhaps a better formulation of QFT would make
The physics in QFT and string theory has
a lot of mathematical secrets in it. It was thought that interacting
QFT existed in 4D. But the string dualities show that QFTs exist in
5D and 6D.
A (2,0) QFT describing particles in 6D is dual to
M-theory describing strings and gravity in 7D AdS space. In terms of
conventional QFT without gravity, there is nothing quite like the
(2,0) theory above 6D. You can deduce a lot from it about what
happens in lower dimensions. But the (2,0) theory has no reasonable
classical starting point. Maybe the continuum is wrong for
AR I say all good
physics is discrete. The continuum emerges.
2017 November 28
●● Thus man is
definitely master of the woman
number one on the checklist for children in a library book at an
Islamic school in the UK.
Ofsted inspectors uncovered a dossier
of such material on recent visits to faith-based institutions.
Government ministers appear to be funding promotion of the idea that
girls are inferior to boys.
The schoolbook "Women Who Deserve
to Go to Hell" lists women who show ingratitude to their husband,
have high ambitions, or are mischievous and a trial for men.
●● In the beginning of
the 20th century, a movement for the freedom of women was launched
with the basic objective of driving women towards aberrant ways
contrasted the "noble woman of the East" who protects her modesty by
wearing a veil and the "internally torn woman of the West" who
"leaves her home to knock about aimlessly in cinemas and cafés" and
●● The wife is not
allowed to refuse sex to her husband or leave the house where she
without his permission
●● The man by way of
correction can also beat her
write answers reflecting the teaching:
— Women have a
responsibility only to bear children and bring them up as Muslims
— Men should be protectors of women
— Men are physically stronger
and women are emotionally weaker
●● Men are stronger and
can work full time since they don't need to look after the children
●● Men should earn more
as they have families to support
There are 177
Muslim schools in England, 29 of them funded by the state. Ofsted
has inspected 139 independent Islamic schools since 2015 and rated
79 less than good. A growing number of illegal unregistered schools
are teaching children in a totally unregulated setting.
AR We must fight against this stuff:
Why fund faith schools?
2017 November 27
Religions offer membership. They fill the void in
the heart with the mystical presence of the group, and if they do
not provide this benefit they will wither and die. A religion
protects itself from rival groups and the heresies that promote
University students say distinctions associated with
their inherited culture should be rejected. Non-discrimination is
the orthodoxy of our day. This orthodoxy is as determined to silence
the heretic as any established religion.
Truth arises by an
invisible hand from our many errors, and both error and truth must
be permitted if the process is to work. The academic world today is
losing all sense of its role as guardian of the intellectual life.
Diversity of opinion has been steadily eroded.
in which the truth can be sought without censorship, and without
penalties imposed on those who disagree with the prevailing
orthodoxy, is a social benefit. A religion at least closes the mind
around a real moral community.
"A powerful university cartel
is interwoven with parts of the establishment and cares little about
its students, who many academics view as an inconvenience. The
universities are just focused on the money."
"This is the reality young people are faced with today: They
fork out upwards of £27,000 to go to university, only to be told
they have little to no job prospects. They move to London for a
career, only to pay an average rent upwards of £1000. They're
charged by estate agents to leave a property, and they're charged
renewal fees when they sign on for another year."
students are still at university, their debt pile grows at an
interest rate above 6%, which officials at the Department for
Education have accurately described as 'bonkers'. The government's
unusual methodology for calculating interest increases lifetime
repayments by £40,000 for higher earners, according to analysis by
the Institute for Fiscal Studies, compared with a system in which no
interest accrues beyond consumer price inflation."
In 1817, a man was born. He became a social
justice visionary, a mystic revolutionary, and a religious leader.
He was given the title Baha'u'llah — The Glory of God — and founded
the Baha'i faith.
The revolutionary writings of Baha'u'llah
addressed the largest social problems of the day. He taught that
women are equal to men in every way, have the same rights, and
should be empowered through education. He taught the elimination of
racial prejudice and the importance of social justice at a time when
the brown and black races were considered less than human.
Baha'u'llah wrote at length about how he was the most recent
messenger from God in a great linked chain of luminous souls that
included Krishna, Abraham, Buddha, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. He
spoke of the changeless faith of God, eternal in the past, eternal
in the future: "Glory not in this that you love your country. Glory
rather in this that you love mankind."
2017 November 26
Darkest Hour stars Gary Oldman as Winston
Churchill. Directed by Joe Wright, the movie is set in May 1940 as
Churchill faces an existential crisis: accept a negotiated peace
treaty with Nazi Germany or fight on against seemingly impossible
International Churchill Society executive director
Michael Bishop: "Churchill remains a great hero in the US. Americans
tend to focus exclusively on his leadership in world war two and
know less about other aspects of his career. This has been an
especially fraught period in American political history and I've
noticed near constant references to Churchill in columns and op-eds
over the past year."
In 2013, when a bronze bust of Churchill
was unveiled at the US Capitol, John Boehner, leader of the House
Republicans, declared: "This is one of history's true love stories:
between a great statesman and a nation he called the Great
A Fearsome Churchill
is a lively, provocative historical drama that runs on its own
nonstop creative fire. Winston Churchill, at 66, is a lion who's definitely
not ready for winter.
Though the evacuation of British
soldiers on the beaches of Dunkirk will change the course of the
war, no one knew that for sure. We see almost nothing of the
Operation Dynamo action, which makes Christopher Nolan's
Dunkirk the perfect companion piece to Wright's interior drama.
Gary Oldman delivers Churchill's famous radio
speech ("We shall fight them on the beaches") with all the
rhetorical thunder it requires. The victory of Darkest Hour as a
film is not just to hear the words repeated, but to discover the
flawed human being who carved those words out of the dark night of
his own soul.
2017 November 25
The Democratic Unionist Party holds the
balance of power at Westminster and will block any Brexit deal for
Northern Ireland that could decouple the region from the rest of the
UK. DUP leader Arlene Foster said the DUP will not accept special
laws in Northern Ireland to mirror EU regulations.
“(The DUP will) not support any arrangements that create barriers to
trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom or
any suggestion that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK,
will have to mirror European regulations .. The economic reality for
our economy is that our most important trading relationship is with
the rest of the United Kingdom and we will do nothing that puts that
at risk in any way.”
AR EU says
no Brexit or a hard border in Ireland. DUP says Brexit and no
border. Who will win?
The British economy has big structural
problems that need to be fixed. Workers have become too powerless
relative to company bosses.
We will end up with a universal
basic income. The natural tendency of the economy at the moment is
to widen income and wealth disparities. In those circumstances, and
particularly when you consider the rise of robots and AI, it is hard
to think of any alternative but guaranteeing some kind of universal
Parliament has become a depressing place to go.
The conversations on what kind of Brexit we want are really nasty.
AR The UK needs a healthier economy.
Brexit will damage its economy. Go figure.
UK defence secretary Gavin Williamson is said to have been
shocked at proposed cuts to the armed forces unless he can find £2
billion a year in savings. The funding crisis gripping UK armed
forces is an existential threat to their ability to remain in the
top tier of military powers.
For years, the navy and the air
force have raided army coffers to fund their aircraft carriers, fast
jets, and submarines. The army has been cut to fewer than 78,000.
Soldiers are fed up with cuts to training, travel and live
ammunition for exercises, while they ride in worn-out old vehicles
and live in barracks with broken heating and leaky roofs.
proposal to delay or reduce a planned upgrade of 227 ageing
Challenger 2 tanks and 480 Warrior fighting vehicles and to reduce a
£3.5 billion order for a new generation of 589 Ajax mini tanks would
devastate military capability. On the table too are cuts to the
marines, the navy, and the air force.
An extra £600 million
needed for the Trident program this year will impact the rest of the
military. Any cost hikes for new military hardware lead to cuts in
funds for soldier training, accommodation, wages, and other
personnel costs. UK armed forces face £20 billion of cuts over the
AR If the UK
abandons Trident, the cash adds up.
2017 November 24
Brexit — Injustice
Behind closed doors Theresa May and her chief of staff Nick
Timothy committed the government to pulling out of all aspects of
European Court of Justice jurisdiction after Brexit. No civil
servants were consulted and the cabinet did not authorise the move,
yet it was announced as government policy. Their decision has since
resulted in a horrible legal quagmire that has yet to be resolved.
The Times reports ministers still do not
grasp the complexities of leaving the EU, said the British judge on
the ECJ Ian Forrester, who also questioned the quality of
politicians in Westminster.
This is monstrous. May and Timothy acted like legal dilettantes. If they
had any idea of the true cost (both economic and political) of this
decision to go British and insult other Europeans, they should have
resiled from their policy.
If Brits are so intent on going British in all
possible ways, they should ban foreign cars, ban foreign books and
imported food and clothing, expel all foreigners from the British Isles, close the
airports and the ports — and prepare massively reinforced
penitential and psychiatric facilities for all the victims of the
new Fortress UK policy.
British is not best for the best
things in life. The greatest goods of civilization, such as truth
and justice, have no national dependencies. Their pursuit in such
disciplines as science and law differ nationally only in relatively
superficial respects, not in the essential constraints facing all
humans who engage with them.
The European Court of Justice is
no more a kangaroo court than are the highest British courts. Any
suggestion that the justice it dispenses is of lesser quality than
that of British courts must be firmly rejected.
2017 November 23
The economic case for ever closer union in Europe
is clear, but it has proved difficult to sell to the general public.
Hungary, Poland, and the UK are the most troublesome EU member
states in this regard. Europhobia is growing in all three.
Common to Britain, Hungary, and Poland are domestic populist
movements and parties that have created successful anti-EU
narratives, harking back to nationalist symbols and myths, and
discarding statistics and rational thinking from their debates.
Without strong grassroots support, there can be no deeper
economic or political integration in Europe. Imposition of grand
projects by a governing elite will lead to backlashes. The EU needs
to develop a counter-narrative to nationalism.
Germany must choose between a new election
and a minority government. This is an opportunity for leaders in
Germany and the West. The last few years have shown that few are
ready to push the liberal order to breaking point.
of Western elites after Trump and Brexit arises from a refusal to
take responsibility for foreign policy failures, to admit their
utopianism was oversold, and to reckon with the social decay and
spiritual crisis shadowing their dream.
All the agitation
suggests a basic deficiency of elite imagination that could bring
down the liberal order. What can save the liberal order is the
successful integration of concerns that its leaders have dismissed
or ignored back into normal political debate.
cease to pursue ever further political centralization by
undemocratic means, break up the intellectual cartels that control
the commanding heights of culture, and accept that the days of
immigration open doors are over.
The consequences of the Brexit vote are
starting to be felt. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier confirms
that British banks are set to lose their EU passport, and the
European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency will
move out of London.
The UK economy has not collapsed. The GDP
is rising and the unemployment rate is low. But the rate of GDP
growth has fallen and inflation has risen, due to a fall in the
value of the pound. Brexit has already cost each British household
an estimated £600.
Theresa May and her government offer no
credible path to prosperity after Brexit and have made barely any
progress in negotiating the terms of Brexit in time for March 2019.
So May wants to push Brexit back to 2021 and abide by all the EU
rules during the transition period.
EU president Donald Tusk
says Britain must still make concessions in a number of areas,
including the settlement of its financial obligations to the EU, the
legal protections afforded EU citizens in the UK, and the future of
the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Boris Johnson and Michael Gove want to turn Brexit Britain into
a European version of Singapore or Hong Kong during the days of
British colonial rule. But the EU will do all it can to stop the UK
letting big companies that operate in Europe avoid EU taxes and
2017 November 22
A Grand Unified Theory
Just after the big bang, there was one
superforce. As the universe cooled, this force split into two, then
three, and then the four forces we know today. A grand unified
theory (GUT) combines all but gravity into one force.
Electromagnetism and the weak nuclear force become one electroweak
force at energies of about 100 GeV, taking us back to about a
picosecond after the big bang. At 10^-36 s ABB, the electroweak and
strong nuclear force should be one force. A new GUT based on SU(5)
SU(5) is based on the idea that at grand
unification energies all the particles are represented by
mathematical structures that can be thought of as pentagons and
decagons. For example, each side of the pentagon represents either a
quark or a lepton, but the sides are symmetrical. This symmetry
breaks only when the universe cools.
predicted an extra interaction between quarks and leptons that made
protons liable to decay. But experiments put the lifetime of a
proton at more than 10^34 years. So that form of SU(5) was wrong.
Theories that predict longer proton lifetimes are far more
complicated. For example, supersymmetry doubles the number of known
particles. But experiments see no evidence of supersymmetry.
The new GUT adds two structures to SU(5), one with 40 sides and
another with 50 sides, to represent heavy fields. These help unify
the electroweak and strong nuclear forces and prevent the proton
from decaying, all without resorting to supersymmetry. The next step
is to explain the mass of the Higgs boson.
The Vela Supercluster
The Local Group of galaxies — a collection
that includes the Milky Way, Andromeda, and a few dozen smaller
galactic companions — moves at about 600 km/s relative to the cosmic
microwave background. So far astronomers can account
for about 450 to 500 km/s of the motion.
Supercluster is a recently discovered supercluster of galaxies
spanning 300 million light years that might account for the rest.
Dust and stars in the densest part of the Milky Way disk block out
its light in optical and infrared wavelengths, but radio waves can
pierce the disk.
Atomic hydrogen is made of a single proton
and an electron, whose spins can line up parallel or antiparallel.
Occasionally a spin flips — switching a parallel atom to
antiparallel — and the atom releases a radio photon. A sensitive
radio survey of this neutral hydrogen gas can locate thousands of
galaxies and reveal structures that lie behind the Milky Way disk.
The MeerKAT radio telescope will be more sensitive than any
other radio telescope on Earth. Its 64 antenna dishes should be
operating by early 2018. Renée Kraan-Korteweg and her team, who
discovered the Vela Supercluster, are hoping for time on the array.
Hélène Courtois and her team taking a different approach to
mapping Vela. In certain areas of the sky, galaxies migrate toward a
common point. Her team is looking for the boundaries where matter
flows toward one basin or another.
The two teams are now
collaborating on a map of Vela.
Milky Way as
seen by ESA spacecraft Gaia
Atlas does backflip
SpotMini — a dog?
Leonardo da Vinci
First Space Nation
DUBAI AIRSHOW 2017
£1 = $1.31
€1 = £0.89
Airship on Venus
"Europe must be white"
"Anarchy in the UK has come
about because Brexit has
country. There is
no definite will of the people,
refuse to acknowledge
each other's reality."
2017 November 21
Brexit — Transition
Brexit is a traumatic experience for
many. But there is no excuse for clinging on to delusions, such as
the prediction that Brexit will be revoked. After passing the EU
(Notification of Withdrawal) Act this year, the UK parliament has no
tools left to engineer a reversal.
The British government can
either revoke the decision to leave the single market and the
customs unions or accept a standard trade agreement similar to the
one that the EU recently concluded with Canada, with a hard border
between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Leaving the EU
renders the UK business model obsolete. The UK participated in the
EU single market but opted out of other policy areas such as the
euro. The City of London has operated as the financial center of a
monetary union the UK had no intention of joining.
The UK has
an old-fashioned rentier economy. Those with property assets, final
salary pension schemes, and inherited wealth benefited at the
expense of a growing underclass. After Brexit, that model will no
longer be viable.
To make the best of Brexit, the UK will
need to embrace a more entrepreneurial and innovative economy. The
culture will need to be more inclusive and meritocratic. Brexit will
be the end of feudal financial capitalism.
AR The UK model took a mortal hit in
2008. Brexit is a death cramp.
Brexit — Dreamers
The lines are hardening in British
politics. The choice is between a full Brexit or no Brexit at all.
And caught in the middle is Theresa May.
The British business
community is losing patience and has demanded a plan by the end of
the year. Most Leavers accept that Brexit might cause significant
damage to the economy.
Many say that if the British public
had known in June 2016 what they know now, they would never
have voted for Brexit. A fifth of Remainers would be happy to see
Brexit end in chaos.
nous le déluge —
2017 November 20
Germany — Jamaika Talks Fail
● Groko (CDU—SPD form new
● Minority government (CDU
goes it alone)
● New elections (Angela Merkel
Germany — Taboo Theme
Timothy Garton Ash
Alternative for Deutschland (AfD)
leaders denounce Angela Merkel for opening German frontiers in
September 2015 to massed refugees. The AfD scores best in the
territory of the former German Democratic Republic. There is a
striking inverse correlation between the number of immigrants (or
people of migrant origin) in an area and the populist vote.
The collective psychology of this East German vote includes the
poisonous legacy of a society behind the Berlin Wall that was
anything but open and multicultural. They see Muslim foreigners
welcomed in Germany with open arms and getting everything for
nothing. The knowledge that everything includes generous welfare
provisions only sharpens the resentment.
Germany as a whole
is doing well economically. The AfD gathers the discontented from
every walk of life, but those who predominate in its ranks are men
of the educated upper middle class. This distinguishes German
populism from many other populisms.
Götz Kubitschek played a
big part in the development of the AfD. He helped promote the party
career of Björn Höcke, whose plangent rhetoric of cultural pessimism
and völkisch nationalism would have been entirely at home in the
Weimar Republic. Höcke once said that for the first time in a
thousand years the question arises of the end of Germany.
Kubitschek published a book by Rolf Peter Sieferle called
Germania. On July 20, 2017, the Spiegel nonfiction best-seller list
on Amazon left a gap in sixth place, until the following books were
silently lifted up a place. The real number six was Finis Germania.
The Spiegel editors had censored their list — but the effect of
their decision was that even more people bought the book.
Sieferle said Germany had frozen its Nazi past, and Auschwitz, into
a myth or a state religion in which the Germans are forever the
negative chosen people and the Jews the positive chosen people.
Subjecting Sieferle to the taboo treatment supports his contention
that his theme is beyond the realm of rational debate.
2017 World Toilet Day
Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe sacked from
party, resigning from office.
Our universe is a bubble in a cosmic ocean.
Beyond what we can see is more of everything, for more light years
than we can count. Innumerably many universes like ours pop up in
the ocean. These universes expand, but the ocean expands far more
quickly, driving them apart from each other.
The farther away in space we look, the farther back in time we
look too. At the limit, beyond the first stars, all we can see is
the leftover glow from the big bang. This is our bubble universe.
Before the big bang that blew our bubble, cosmic inflation
expanded the ocean exponentially. The oceanic quantum field decays
from an unstable high-energy state to a stable low-energy state. The
decay creates big bangs and bubble universes of all possible kinds.
Eternal inflation forms separate bubbles endlessly in an
infinite ocean. The whole bubble bath is the multiverse.
The center of our Milky Way produces much
more gamma radiation than we expected. Highly energetic gamma
rays appear to be coming from all across the galactic plane — and
more antimatter streams through the galaxy than we expected.
Recent studies suggest pulsars can explain these anomalies.
Researchers divided the region of the sky covering the galactic
center into numerous pixels and measured the gamma ray fluctuations
in each pixel. The variations suggest the signals come from many
It seems the abundance of positrons in the
galaxy may also be due to pulsars. Pulsars generate huge magnetic
fields that spin along with them and generate electric fields that
pull electrons into space and accelerate them. As the electrons
spiral out, they emit gamma rays. Some of this radiation is
energetic enough to create pairs of electrons and positrons.
Two nearby pulsars, Geminga and Monogem, emit not only gamma rays
directly but also highly energetic gamma rays that appear to form
halos around them. Throughout this halo, electrons coming from the
pulsar collide with photons from ambient starlight and transfer huge
amounts of energy to them. Geminga converts 8%—27% of its energy to
electrons and positrons. Monogem converts twice as much.
Pulsars produce a tremendous amount of antimatter within our galaxy.
2017 November 18
Brexit — Transition To Tyranny
Brexit means abandoning an association
based on equal standing and exposing ourselves to coercion by other
nations. Our relationship with the United States is likely to look
like that of servant and master. We will remove ourselves from a
regime in which we have full rights and full representation, and
enter one in which we have little of either.
In the UK,
almost every cultural reference point is poorly defined, weak and
contested. British public services have all been gutted, disciplined
and undermined by those who assert their patriotism.
enabling state is allowed to wither, what remains is the
authoritarian state. As the enabling state shrinks, the flags must
be unfurled, the national anthem played, schoolchildren taught their
kings and queens, and elaborate pieties offered to dead soldiers.
National pride becomes toxic.
This is the Britizen Jon scenario.
Lord Adonis: "What was clear from my
meetings in Brussels is that they desperately want us to stay.
I didn't meet a single person who thought that the EU would be
better off without us."
Michael Heseltine: "I simply can't
contemplate with equanimity the idea of the president of the United
States, the prime minister of India, the president of China, flying
into Berlin, Paris, to discuss major international events hosted by
the European Union, with Britain waiting to be told what the
communiqué says. It is about influence and power and top tables."
Peter Mandelson: "To compete with the EU, we will be led
inexorably down the path of a less taxed, less regulated business
environment. The economy may be more globalised, in reality more
American, but the public will become less protected."
Emmanuel Macron: "The door, of course, is still open as long as
Brexit negotiations have not been concluded."
"It is in fact up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no
deal or no Brexit."
1 Revoke Article 50
2 Extend negotiations
3 Vote in parliament
4 Hold general election or second
2017 November 17
Saudi Arabia Versus Iran
Saudi Arabia has found a new purpose in
recent years — to check Iranian influence. The ruthless ambition of
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman radiates across the Mideast. Saudi
foreign and security policy has gone into overdrive:
intervention in Yemen has been costly and inconclusive. It could
lead to the transformation of the Houthi movement into something
akin to Hezbollah — but much closer to Saudi borders.
Saudi blockade of Qatar has been more successful. The effort to tame
that country has worked and the crisis has now been put on the back
burner of international diplomacy.
● The latest Saudi
venture in Lebanon is also likely to backfire. The forced
resignation as prime minister and probable house arrest of Saad
Hariri plays into the hands of Iran and Hezbollah.
Mideast balance of power is determined in Syria and Iraq, where Iran
is well ahead. Iran has shown that it will be there for its friends
and allies in good and bad times. Saudi Arabia has not.
Brexit — Shipwreck
British politics is close to meltdown. The UK
economy suffers from deep weaknesses. Brexit is likely to expose
The aftermath of the financial crisis has been
devastating. A generational divide has opened up and the UK economy
is the most regionally divided in Europe. GDP per head has only
regained pre-crisis levels in London and the southeast.
employment looks good but part-time employment is relatively high
and various categories of insecure work have greatly increased. Pay
at the top has exploded: 30 years ago, company chief executives were
paid on average about 20 times the salary of the average worker. The
ratio is now about 150 times.
UK productivity per hours
worked is among the lowest for high-income countries and has
flatlined since the crisis. UK investment is weak by the standards
of comparable countries and has tended to fall as a share of GDP for
This is not a vigorous and healthy economy. It
is absurd to suggest otherwise. Beware a shipwreck.
AR Shipwreck is the metaphor in
SAP HANA and Hibernate
Since SAP was founded in 1972, developers
have been at the heart of our success. SAP believes openness is a
fundamental requirement to attract and engage with developers. Open
source frameworks play a crucial role in accelerating innovation.
SAP supports open source foundations and initiatives including
Apache, Eclipse, Node.js, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry — and now
Hibernate, a suite of open source projects from Red Hat that provide
simplified data persistence for relational databases and domain
models. The flagship Hibernate project is its object/relational
mapping framework for Java developers.
recognized SAP as a leader in the magic quadrant for operational
data management systems.
Schneiss and I were colleagues in the SAP HANA team.
Work and Play
Zen master Alan Watts taught us to experience
things as they are here and now.
Watts: "You are involved by
and large in a very strange business system which divides your day
into work and play. Work is something that everybody does and you
get paid to do it because .. it is so abominable and boring .. And
the object of making money is to .. buy pleasure."
concept of sacrificing time for money is a cultural construct.
Choice is essential for humans to feel motivated and in control, and
our calling certain commitments work strips choice away.
Humans are playful by nature. We consider play enjoyable. We choose
to focus our attention on it, we strive to get the most out of it,
and if we do it well, we get lost in a world of joy and awe.
Alan Watts said we forget that the boundary between work and play is
illusory. Nothing in the world is inherently interesting. Things are
interesting because we make them interesting.
There is no
reason not to enjoy work. It need not be the opposite of play.
2017 November 16
Masters of the Universe
Eight of the world's most highly valued
companies are technology businesses. Their combined market
capitalisation is $4.7 trillion, 30% of the combined market cap of
all the rest in the world's 100 most valuable firms. The top 5
(Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, Amazon, Facebook) are US companies,
together worth over $3.3 trillion.
The most highly valued
European tech company is SAP, with a market cap of $135 billion,
placed 60 in the top 100. Apple has a book value of $134 billion but
a market valuation close to $900 billion. The difference reflects an
expectation of enduring monopoly profits resulting from innovation
and economies of scale.
Apple has total assets of $375
billion but fixed assets of $34 billion. The company sees no
profitable way to invest its huge profits in its business. It is now
an investment fund attached to an innovation machine. A lower
corporate tax rate will not raise its investment. Territorial taxes
are defective in taxing global technology companies.
are vital to a free and democratic society. Google and Facebook are
expected to earn 63% of all US digital advertising revenue in 2017.
We consumers have elected the tech titans masters of the universe.
Ross 128b — Earth 2.0?
Ross 128b, just 11 light years away, is
roughly Earth-sized and orbits its parent star once every 9.9 days.
Its surface temperature could lie somewhere between –60 and +20 C,
making it temperate and a possible home for life. It has about 1.35
times Earth mass, hence stronger gravity.
closest Earth-like world to us is Proxima Centauri b, discovered in
2016, which is 4.24 light years away. But Ross 128b may have an
advantage for habitability, as Proxima Centauri is an active star
that emits torrents of UV and X-rays, whereas Ross 128 is a
quiescent red dwarf.
Ross 128b was found by with the ESO
instrument HARPS. The ESO European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT)
opening in 2024 will provide images 16 times sharper than the HST.
It will let us analyze light from Ross 128b for oxygen in its
atmosphere — an indicator for life.
2017 November 15
Beatrice Fihn leads the International
Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, which won the Nobel Peace Prize
for 2017. Her big idea is to treat nuclear weapons not as a power
tool for world peace but as weapons of mass destruction along with
biological weapons and chemical weapons.
Nuclear weapons are
often mentioned in terms that obscure the ugly reality. When
President Trump refers to the "full range" of US military
capabilities, he means nukes. He does not say he is ready to use a
weapon of mass destruction to indiscriminately kill civilians,
irradiate survivors, and so on.
Fihn wants to reframe the
debate and set a clear norm that nuclear weapons are unacceptable.
She says the tensions between the United States and North Korea
remind us that a nuclear war can happen as long as the weapons
exist. Any nuclear war will cause appalling casualties.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization was born in 1949 to
oppose the Soviet Union. When the Soviet Union died in 1991, no one
tackled the big questions about its ongoing purpose.
Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin, the presidents of Turkey and
Russia, are working together. NATO member Turkey plans to spend $2 billion
on a Russian-made S-400 missile system.
NATO Article 5, the clause promising armed solidarity, was activated after 9/11. Since then only
Turkey has sought to invoke it, in 2012, when Ankara tried to draw
NATO into the Syrian conflict.
NATO must tell Erdogan to
respect the contours of alliance policy. If he wants to
subvert NATO in the Mideast, the alliance can live without him.
Erdogan can either leave NATO or try to be a loyal ally.
Putin poses a threat. We should take seriously his fear of
encirclement, end the process of NATO enlargement, and resist
Russian attempts to drive America and Europe apart.
UK Defence Cuts
Former JFC commander General Sir Richard Barrons says UK armed
forces are on the brink of failure unless the government allocates
an additional £2 billion a year.
He says the British army is
20 years out of date. It needs a whole new fleet of armoured
vehicles, new wheeled vehicles, more air defences and drones, and
better cyber capabilities.
Former Royal Navy head Admiral Sir
George Zambellas says the navy is institutionally underfunded and
insufficient to tackle the threat from Russian submarine activity
off the British coast.
Trident and let the rest of the armed forces flourish. Strategic
nukes add little to UK security and serve mainly to give the British
brand a bit more bling.
2017 November 14
The Future of Europe
The Financial Times is launching a new
project to brainstorm about the future of Europe. Professors at six
universities across Europe asked their students to write essays on
the following questions:
● Should the next frontier for
Europe be deeper integration or more power to nation states?
● Would it be wise to
reconsider the four founding freedoms in the EU treaties?
● Is it time to concentrate on
EZ priorities rather than the broader EU27?
● To what extent is German
leadership of Europe desirable or necessary?
The European Union is based on freedom
of movement for goods, services, capital, and people. The four
freedoms are to the EU what golf is to a golf club.
a logic behind the unity of the four freedoms. One can divide the
four freedoms into two categories: economic outputs — goods and
services, and economic inputs — labor and capital. The logic is
based on political reasoning.
UK prime minister Theresa May's
infamous "citizens of nowhere" remark reveals the Brexit mentality.
In the EU you are always a citizen of your home state and of the
union itself, no matter where you live. You are European.
Europe of variable geometry will not be one in which member states
opt in and out of the four freedoms. All member states will accept them. Any new EU-UK association agreement would need to
accept freedom of movement.
prime minister Theresa May needs help to push Brussels for a
breakthrough in Brexit talks. EU leaders fear she may not survive to
deliver on promises made during Brexit negotiations.
secretary David Davis says the government will let MPs vote for the
Brexit deal on offer or for no deal.
Drones Over Venus
work well on Venus. Venus has a thick atmosphere and we could
fly a 200 W drone up at about 50 km where the pressure
is 1 bar and the temperatures around 75 C. At this altitude, our
craft will get about twice the intensity of sunlight it would over
Earth to work with for power.
once every 243 days. Our drone could fly slowly along the equator and stay in daylight. Our drone has an infinite
power source in an adequate atmosphere at an acceptable temperature. With its solar panels on a 40 cm
could fly at a steady 5 km/h around the equator forever.
Winds in the Venusian troposphere gust up to 360 km/h, but they are
minimal at the equator. To explore more, we could configure our drone like an aircraft to use the
wind to stay aloft. Clouds of sulfuric acid could rot the
craft and heat could damage it, but otherwise it looks good.
Northrop Grumman has a concept for a Venus Atmospheric
Maneuverable Platform (VAMP — blog 2015-08-31), a big inflatable
aircraft resembling a B-2 bomber. VAMP would cruise around Venus at
an altitude between 50 and 70 km — much like flying on Earth.
2017 November 13
Mars today is inhospitable to human life.
Its surface is largely dry and arid, its atmosphere thin and toxic,
and its climate frigid. We will need to terraform the planet before
we can colonize it.
Mars has an atmospheric pressure of about
600 Pa, nearly all CO2, with no liquid water and an equilibrium
temperature of 215 K. The Martian north pole is frosted with water
ice and the south pole is capped with CO2 ice.
the southern cap could increase the atmospheric pressure by up to 10
kPa. The current temperature of the south pole is about 142 K,
almost warm enough to do so. We need only warm up the south pole by
about 5.5 K to start the process. Then the temperature and pressure
on Mars will rise to about 225 K and 10 kPa.
Another 30 kPa
of CO2 is frozen in the Martian regolith. Once the south pole CO2 is
sublimated, the regolith CO2 will join it. The atmospheric pressure
will rise to 40 kPa and the equatorial temperature will exceed 273 K
An orbiting mirror could beam down enough
sunlight to start the process if it were 70 km in diameter.
Halocarbon generators could pump out enough greenhouse gas to
accelerate the process.
Once a warm atmospheric blanket is in
place, photosynthetic plants can pump out oxygen. Plants also need
water to survive, but Mars has plenty of frozen water. The plants
will deplete the CO2 and the halocarbons will deplete ozone and
hence raise the surface UV levels, so our colonists will need to
manage the atmosphere.
Terraforming Mars is the first step
in our quest to become an interplanetary species.
Mars Terraformer Transfer (MATT)
The MATT concept uses a
commercial satellite to terraform a region of Mars in 2036, creating
a persistent lake for use by mission crews.
MATT terraforms a
city-sized region for habitation. A satellite shepherd guides a
selected celestial small-body impactor to a selected target site. A
powerful laser provides the shepherding impulse. The laser and other
instruments deflect, analyze, and restructure the small body, over
some years, for optimized impact on Mars.
injects heat into bedrock, producing meltwater for a lake that
persists for thousands of years within the warmed impact site. Here
the challenges for crewed missions are ameliorated. MATT habs can
scale to millions of cubic meters. Treated lake water can cover and
protect underwater domes.
Scaled Mars habs can also house
commercial offices for telerobotic open-pit mining of rare and rare
2017 Remembrance Sunday
Die Vereinigten Staaten von
Amerika haben ihren Führungsanspruch verwirkt. Mit der Wahl von
Donald Trump haben sich eine Krankheit derart verselbstständigt,
dass die vernünftigen Kräfte in den USA sie nicht mehr ausgleichen
können. Diese Analyse ist ebenso verwegen wie die Vorstellung, dass
stattdessen Europa weltpolitisch führen sollen.
Elitenverachtung, Misstrauen in Institutionen und Gewaltenteilung,
eine von Feindbildern getriebene Spaltung der Gesellschaft, die
Sehnsucht nach Abschottung und Schutz vor dem kulturell, religiös
oder ethnisch Anderen — damit ist eine innerwestliche Krise
beschrieben, nicht bloß eine inneramerikanische.
eine fast 250 Jahre lang gewachsene und widerstandsfähige
Demokratie. Amerikas Gewaltenteilung funktioniert. Die EU, eine
Gruppe aus 28 Staaten, die ausdrücklich kein Superstaat werden will,
kann schwerlich eine Supermacht sein.
Die EU ist ziemlich
stark darin, ihre Stärken zu beschwören, und ziemlich schwach darin,
ihre Schwächen einzugestehen. Das gilt auch für ihre Wirtschaft. Sie
gründet auf Voraussetzungen, die Regierungen selbst nicht schaffen
Weil die amerikanische Neigung zum Exzess derzeit
eher zu- als abnimmt, muss Europa ein stärkeres Gegengewicht bilden.
Aber diese neue Stärke muss sich innerhalb einer Partnerschaft mit
Amerika entfalten. Denn bevor Europa dort ist, ist Trump längst
2017 November 11
When Consciousness Began
Julian Jaynes published
The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind
in 1976. It still sells today.
Jaynes: "Consciousness is a
much smaller part of our mental life than we are conscious of .. It
is like asking a flashlight in a dark room to search around for
something that does not have any light shining upon it. The
flashlight, since there is light in whatever direction it turns,
would have to conclude that there is light everywhere. And so
consciousness can seem to pervade all mentality when actually it
does not ..
.. it is perfectly possible that there could have
existed a race of men who spoke, judged, reasoned, solved problems,
indeed did most of the things that we do, but were not conscious at
Jaynes said that until about 3 ky BP, humans relied on
a bicameral mind, with one half speaking to the other in the voice
of the gods to guide on their way. The bicameral mind eventually
broke down as human societies became more complex, and our forebears
awoke with an internal narrative.
Jaynes says the characters
in The Iliad do not look inward or act by choice but only do what
the gods tell them. He suggests the right hemisphere used to be the
source of prompts sent to the left side of the brain. These became
hallucinations that helped guide humans through difficult
The bicameral mind enabled humans to manage in
rigidly hierarchical societies. But around 3 ky BP, stress from
overpopulation, natural disasters, and wars overwhelmed the voices.
The breakdown of the bicameral mind led to a more flexible way of
life. The modern mind was born.
I loved the book. I see it as locating the evolutionary
origin of the architecture of personal autonomy.
Quantum theory says systems before
observation are in a superposition of all possible observable
states. A quantum state vector encodes all allowed outcomes of
measurement and their relative probabilities. A measurement
collapses the state vector to give a unique outcome.
Wigner imagined he was outside a windowless room where his friend
measures a system. She knows what the observed property of the
system is, but he cannot say that the state vector has collapsed
until she tells him the result. Until then, he can only think of her
and her system as forming one big superposition.
solipsism may be logically consistent with quantum mechanics. But we
get an infinite regress: Is he too in a superposition of states
until he relays the result to his other friends?
Brukner imagines that the friend measures the system and collapses
the state vector, producing either outcome A or B, but tells him
only that she sees a definite result, not what it is. He can only
conclude that his friend and her system are in a joint
superposition, even though he knows a measurement has happened.
His friend is in state A or state B, but to him she is in a
superposition of A and B. Both are right, depending on whose point
of view you adopt. In quantum theory there is no privileged
perspective for a third observer to reconcile the viewpoints.
Markus Müller imagines that you observe a system and see state
X. Given that, your chance of seeing another state Y is defined in
algorithmic information theory by representing your experience at
any instant as a string of bits. Your history is a random walk
through the various possible bit strings.
As these random
experiences stack up, the conditional probability of the next bit
string is higher for simpler bit sequences than for complex ones, so
a simple model emerges. Recall that in the kinetic theory of gases
the probability distribution of random configurations of gas
molecules is peaked and simple laws emerge for observable
properties. In quantum theory too, from minimal assumptions you can
recover a world like the one we know.
I explored this view in depth in my book
Mindworlds. More fun
is the movie
What the bleep do we know?
2017 November 10
The End Is Nigh
The next few years will change the status of Britain. The UK
will depart from the EU in March 2019. The Elizabethan era, the
symbol of postwar British stability, may end at much the same time.
For Brexiteers, the EU is a fog that shrouded British glory.
Power once lost is now found. A
new era of national glory and buccaneering global trade will dawn. Britain
will be great again.
Leaving the EU will shrink the UK. A
slow and gradual descent, rather than a singular cataclysm, will see the economy grow slowly rather than vigorously. Investment levels
will remain stubbornly low as investors turn elsewhere. The City of
London will contract.
The next US president will whisper
sweet nothings about the special relationship with Britain. But with no route into the diplomatic chambers of Europe, London
will mean less to Washington.
The end of the
Elizabethan era will see the nation diminished in the name of
The UK will have lost the EU but failed to find
is the mood music of Britizen Jon.
2017 November 9
Brexit — Deadline
Brexit talks resume today in Brussels.
Without sufficient progress this month on the divorce settlement,
the EU may be unable to discuss transition talks at its summit in
The European Parliament issued a blunt
warning over citizen rights. Its demands include a cost-free
and near-unconditional settled-status application process for 3
million EU nationals in Britain, which would only begin once a
transition period ends. Such demands go far beyond what the UK has
offered, but MEPs can veto the final divorce deal.
Germany are urging the EU27 to stand firm. EU chief negotiator
Michel Barnier was unable to persuade them to let transition talks
begin in parallel to divorce talks.
Brexit — Taxation
Why did rich Brits campaign so hard for
In 2015, Britain rejected EU plans to combat tax
avoidance by global multinationals. Britain had built a corporate
tax haven for multinationals that included slashing corporation tax
from 28% to 20% and introducing favorable tax regimes for
multinationals with offshore financing subsidiaries.
in 2015, British MEPs voted against EU plans to require companies to
report where they make their profits and pay taxes. The plans
included sanctions against countries or territories worldwide that
fail to curb tax evasion. The EU pushed ahead — its rules take
effect in 2019.
A hard Brexit frees the UK from these rules.
Brexit — Endgame
European Union leaders are preparing for the fall of Theresa May
before the new year, as the prime minister lost her second cabinet
minister in a week.
Fears are growing in Brussels that the
instability of her government raises the risk of a change of
leadership or elections leading to a Labour victory.
options are under consideration in Brussels, including a disorderly
Brexit or a reversal of the Brexit decision after new elections.
Trump — Survival
Donald Trump has not actually carried out most
of his lunatic campaign rhetoric. His supporters can argue that he
is more moderate in practice than his rhetoric would suggest. The
more compelling explanation for his failure to make good on his
1 Trump doesn't really
believe in much beyond his own awesomeness. He didn't mean a lot of
he said — it was just something to rouse
the rubes at rallies.
2 Trump has
been utterly incompetent. Even if he wants to achieve more of his
agenda, he has no
idea how to do it. The only
things he has accomplished are those he can do by executive order.
3 Trump has staffed his
administration with people based largely on superficial criteria. As
he is surrounded by aides who view
him as a screwball to be contained, not a sage to be followed.
The past year has dispelled naive hopes that Trump would grow in
office or become more presidential. He is still an ignorant,
petulant, unethical, avaricious, conspiratorial, nasty, shameless,
Alice and Bob talk
Wormhole with octopus
My sister in Oregon
Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
Sir Robert Syms MP
with PCA political deputy
chair Viv Allen
with PCA chair Peter Adams
his wife Brenda
around a neutron star
2017 November 8
Priti Patel Exits
Priti Patel has resigned as UK international
development secretary amid controversy over her meetings with
ER = EPR
Juan Maldacena conjectures that
wormholes between distant points in spacetime — ER bridges — are
equivalent to entangled quantum particles — EPR pairs. This is ER =
Black holes evaporate via Hawking radiation. But the
idea that a dying black hole erases all record of everything that
went into it violates the principle of unitarity in quantum theory,
which holds that information is never lost when particles interact.
Given unitarity, the information must escape.
quantum gravity drew Maldacena to the ER = EPR idea. The implied
relationship between tunnels in spacetime and quantum entanglement
posed by ER = EPR resonates with the idea that space is essentially
stitched into existence by quantum entanglement.
The ER = EPR
idea can be extended by equating a traversable wormhole and quantum
teleportation. If a traversable wormhole connects a parent black
hole and a daughter black hole formed from half of the Hawking
radiation given off by the parent as it evaporates, the two systems
are entangled — information from the parent worms its way out of the
Let Alice and Bob have entangled quantum particles
a and b, respectively. Alice wants to teleport a qubit q to Bob, so
she prepares a combined state of q and a, measures that combined
state (reducing it to 1 or 0), and sends the result of this
measurement to Bob. He can then use this as a key for operating on b
in a way that recreates the state q, in effect teleporting q.
Say Alice throws qubit q into black hole A. She then measures a
bit of its Hawking radiation, a, and tells Bob the result through
the external universe. Bob uses this knowledge to operate on b, a
Hawking particle from black hole B. Bob reconstructs q, which
appears to pop out of B, a perfect match for the particle that fell
into A. Information is recovered from black holes.
Traversable wormholes cannot be used as time machines. Anything that
goes through the wormhole has to wait for Alice to talk to Bob in
the outside universe before it can exit B, so the wormhole offers no
superluminal boost that could be exploited for time travel.
Traversable wormholes seem to be permitted in nature as long as they
offer no speed advantage.
The new work suggests there is no
firewall at black hole horizons. The interior and exterior of the
black hole are two complementary ways of looking at the same system.
An observer passing across a black hole horizon would notice nothing
Unitarity is preserved because whatever falls into
one black hole exits the other as Hawking radiation. We can think of
the radiation entangled with the black hole — EPR — as being
connected to the black hole interior by wormholes — ER. A theory of
quantum gravity might imply ER = EPR.
Preamble (Quanta, 2015)
ER = EPR is a shorthand that
joins two ideas proposed by Einstein in 1935. If it is correct, the
ideas form the foundation of spacetime. Leonard Susskind and Juan
Maldacena say quantum entanglement could create the connectivity
that sews space together — without it space would atomize.
The firewall paradox: If a black hole event horizon is a smooth
interface, the particles coming out of the black hole are entangled
with particles falling into the black hole. To conserve information,
the particles coming out must also be entangled with particles that
left long ago and are far out in a cloud of Hawking radiation.
Maximum entanglements are monogamous, between just two particles, so
spacetime inside the throats of black holes cannot be smooth. This
implies a firewall.
Susskind and Maldacena suggest that ER =
EPR implies an octopus wormhole that entangles the interior of the
black hole directly to particles in the expanding cloud.
AR See blog 2017 June 25.
2017 November 7
UK Ruling Class
Britain is almost unique in its
vulnerability to amateurism, scandal, and electoral indecision.
Power is concentrated in national government, its executive branch,
and its prime minister.
An effective government can build a
welfare state, as Labour did after 1945, or free an economy, as the
Conservatives did from 1979. A poor government can ruin everything.
Brexit and the presidency of Donald Trump are parallel
experiments with national sovereignty.
But America is designed to
prosper despite its politics. Most mature democracies have codified
balances, this set against that, to limit the reach of mere politics
into the life of the nation.
The British system trusts the
life of the nation to a few offices and prays for worthy occupants.
Without EU membership, which restrains government, that
concentration of power intensifies. Constitutional reform is needed
as a hedge against bad government.
The Paradise Papers
Democracy is rotten in Brexit
Britain. Three myths:
1 The British public is fighting its
— Wrong. The elites are fighting their publics by
denying them revenues for hospitals and schools. Shuttling between
tax havens is an elite sport, and the loser each time is the rest of
society, which sees its tax base shrink.
2 Austerity was the
only correct response to the crisis.
— Wrong. A recent study
that found wealthy Britons have stashed about £300 billion in
offshore tax havens. Tories punish the poor but reward the rich for
fear they will flee offshore. London has more super-rich residents
than any other city.
3 The British public is spoiled by a
surfeit of democracy.
— Wrong. Rich non-dom Brits have the
most say. Tory donor Michael Ashcroft was granted a peerage after
promising to give up his non-dom status, yet he continues to shelter
millions offshore. Telegraph owners Sir David and Sir Frederick
Barclay have their island hideaway of Brecqhou. Daily Mail inheritor
Viscount Rothermere has non-dom status. News Corporation owner
Rupert Murdoch presides over 152 subsidiaries, including 62 in the
British Virgin Islands, 33 in the Caymans, and 15 in Mauritius.
Big Finance and runaway inequality rot democracy.
Watch Amber Rudd
Theresa May calls for a new culture of respect
in public life. But the chaos of the sex scandal will surely hasten
the departure of a prime minister presiding over a party split from
top to bottom over Europe. Although most MPs thought she would
struggle on until after March 2019, many doubt she can survive that
As for who might take over, David Davis once had his
female supporters parading around in T-shirts with "It's DD for me"
emblazoned across their chests. Boris Johnson is a diplomatic
disaster zone. Liam Fox has already resigned once for letting his
best man into meetings. Damian Green may no longer be seen as a safe
pair of hands. Philip Hammond has alienated many with his budget
blunders. Andrea Leadsom has opponents who would walk across hot
coals to stop her becoming prime minister. Priti Patel had to
apologise over unauthorised meetings in Israel. Ruth Davidson cannot
make it to Westminster in time.
Amber Rudd is the one to
The RNA world hypothesis was that life emerged out
of RNA. But RNA would not evolve spontaneously. Both RNA and
proteins must take the form of long, folded chains to work, and the
early Earth would have prevented strings of nucleic or amino acids
from growing long enough.
A protein-folding model treats the
20 amino acids as colored beads: blue hydrophilic beads (polar
monomers) and red hydrophobic ones (nonpolar monomers). A chain of
beads folds along the vertices of a 2D lattice. Which square a bead
occupies depends on how the red beads clump to avoid water.
Permutations of hydrophobic and polar monomers give all possible
red-and-blue necklaces up to a given length. A few per thousand of
these sequences collapse into compact foldable polymer
structures that expose a hydrophobic patch of red beads on their
This patch can serve as a sticky landing pad for
hydrophobic sections of sequences floating by. If a single red bead
and a red-tailed chain land on the hydrophobic patch at the same
time, energy favors the two sequences linking together. The
patch acts as a catalyst for elongating polymers.
A few of
those elongated polymers fold and expose their own hydrophobic
patch. These can form an autocatalytic set to catalyze the formation
of copies of themselves. The number of protein molecules would grow
exponentially. RNA would evolve later.
2017 November 6
Dawn of Life
Ribosomes are molecular machines found
inside every living cell. They read the genetic code contained in
DNA and use it to construct the proteins that build us.
ribosomes differ from those of a lowly bacterium only in the
ornamentation on their outer surface. As evolution progressed, new
species tacked extra bits of RNA to their ribosomes. The common core
is the part of the ribosome that worked in the last universal common
Researchers explored the ribosome by
recognising the insertion fingerprints in its decoration. They
looked further and found ancient traces pointing before LUCA. Every
time they found an addition, they snipped it away, pruning down to
more primitive layers, all the way down.
The most ancient
part of the ribosome is a stretch of RNA that includes the
cradle-resembling region that today links amino acids to form
protein-like chains. This rudimentary ribosome had none of the
precision needed in LUCA. It must have linked amino acids, and
probably whatever other molecules would fit into its cradle, into
short random chains.
As random fragments churned out of the
molecular sausage-maker, a few had a shape that helped them stick to
the ribosomal RNA. The mess of co-evolving RNA and protein fragments
included a range of molecules that self-assembled. Chemical
evolution winnowed through the randomness and selected the
components that clung best together.
Life needs a genetic
code and precise replication of a genome. In modern cells, code from
the central DNA library in the nucleus is copied out to the
ribosomes via messenger RNA. The ribosome binds the mRNA transcripts
and reads them three letters at a time, with each triplet coding for
one amino acid. The specified amino acid is escorted to the ribosome
by a transfer RNA.
In prehistory, the proto-ribosome made a
range of new molecules. Chemical evolution selected mRNA and tRNA
that were better and more precise at their jobs, eventually leading
to the genetic code found in all living things. At last, life had
Modern proteins all contort into intricate 3D shapes
that are essential to their function. For a protein to fold well,
one part of it has to fit tightly against another. As the precursor
molecules co-evolved, they would have selected protein fragments
that were predisposed to fold well.
The proteins associated
with the oldest part of the ribosome show little or no complex
folding. Moving to more recent parts of the ribosome, researchers
see proteins folding first into simple sheets and then into more and
more precise and intricate shapes. The RNA portions of the ribosome
also develop tighter and more stable folding.
When the oldest
part of a ribosome links small molecules into longer chains, the
link is sealed by releasing a water molecule. The first life may
have appeared around the fringes of a pond in conditions alternating
between wet and dry.
2017 November 5
The world's biggest businesses, heads of
state. and global figures in politics, entertainment, and sport who
have sheltered their wealth in secretive tax havens are being
revealed in a leak of over 13 million files obtained by the
Süddeutsche Zeitung. The revelations, for which more than
380 journalists have spent a year combing through decades of data,
Gabriel Zucman: "Tax havens are one of the key
engines of the rise in global inequality."
AR Outlaw the tax regimes in the
"paradise" satellites of the UK economy — Gibraltar, the Cayman
Islands, the British Virgin Islands, the Isle of Man, Jersey and
Guernsey. Demand compliance with mainland law on pain of military
action — such as one Trident warhead per island. If I must pay
UK tax then so should the paradise investors.
2017 November 4
We think of our world as the fruit of a
series of advances: domestication, public order, mass literacy, and
prosperity. We still like to tell a story that starts with
agriculture and the first Mesopotamian city-states, the classical
Greeks and their slaves, and the imperial Romans.
Around 5 ky
BP, droughts in the Fertile Crescent forced foragers to settle in
cities and eat grain to survive. Once a system of labor was in
place, fresh bodies were collected by soldiers in slave raids.
The exploitation machine called civilization was up and running.
Life in cities was probably worse than foraging or herding. City
dwellers ate poorly and they were vulnerable to epidemics. Unless
they were in the ruling class, they had to work not only to feed
themselves and their rulers but also to build palaces and city
Civilization was always linked with barbarism. Tacitus
suggested that German barbarians were more virtuous than settled
Romans. Anglo-Americans often traced their democratic identity to
the liberty of the forest rather than the cities of the
The built world that sustains humanity is so
vast that the infrastructure of civilization outweighs all human
bodies together by a factor of tens of thousands. Without it, global
population would fall to perhaps 200 million, as it was at the
beginning of the Common Era.
As white supremacists marched through
Charlottesville, their banners bore heathen symbols. In Iceland,
Ásatrú high priest Hilmar Hilmarsson looked on with horror.
Ásatrú is the largest heathen religion in Iceland. Based on the
worship of Thor, Odin, Freya, and other ancient deities, its modern
revival started in Reykjavik in 1972. It now has an estimated tens
of thousands of followers worldwide.
In Germany, where Viking
symbols were coopted by the Third Reich, heathens are wary. Karl
Seigfried plans to redact Ásatrú theology to tackle modern issues.
He recalls how Catholics in Latin America created liberation
Ásatrú high priest Hilmarsson says the racist
interpretation of heathenry is a perversion of his faith. He would
like to offer heathens a more compelling vision.
Physics in China
China plans to build an heir to the Large
Hadron Collider. The proposed supercollider would be 55 km in
circumference, twice the size of the LHC, and would define the
frontiers of particle physics for generations.
supercollider is the perfect embodiment of Xi Jinping thought and
the Chinese dream. It is a unique opportunity for China to lead an
entire branch of science.
Authoritarian states breed a
national pride antithetical to the ideals of big science. The
Chinese supercollider project still needs greater international
The LHC fosters collaboration among scientists
and institutions from countries in conflict, but collaborators at
the Chinese supercollider will be subject to political criteria.
Science depends on open access to the internet. The World Wide
Web was invented at CERN in 1989. Future particle physics will run
within the Great Firewall of China.
The success of the
Chinese supercollider will depend on foreign expertise, equipment,
and technology. The particle physics community must set terms for its engagement.
The Quantum Many-Body Problem
Computers show promise at resolving a problem
facing quantum physicists. The behavior of individual electrons is
easy. But once they start interacting with each other, negative
signs appear and the calculations hit an impenetrable mathematical
wall. A mathematical description needs to encode every possible
state that the system could occupy, so its complexity rises
exponentially. This computational wall for entangled particles is
known as the quantum many-body problem.
We can skip the math
and go straight to the science. Deep learning involves training a
computer to recognize patterns by passing data through multiple
layers in a digital network, each of which is coded to search for
specific features. Trained neural networks detect patterns in new
data. If a computer can classify configurations of electrons by
looking at them, then it can maybe do it for any number of
particles. We might get realistic quantum many-body models.
2017 November 3
PCA dinner with Jacob Rees-Mogg MP
UK Defense — Politics
Former head of the British army Richard
Dannatt says Theresa May's decision to make her chief whip the new
defense secretary is not the best choice from a defense point of
view. Lord Dannatt said May had made a political decision to promote
Gavin Williamson because he is a trusted lieutenant.
parliamentary backlash followed the promotion. After Sir Michael
Fallon resigned amid allegations in the Westminster sexual
harassment scandal, other names were in the frame. But Williamson
had worked closely with May and helped stabilize her administration
after the June election.
Brexit — Russia
If the UK Electoral Commission has help from the intelligence
and criminal justice systems, it can ask whether Arron Banks, who
gave the largest donation in British political history to the Brexit
cause, got his millions from Russia.
Brexiteers will ask who
cares if Russia did throw a few roubles into the pot. For them, the
scandal is that the pro-Remain camp had the overwhelming support of
the entire establishment, yet when the British people were finally
given a chance they revolted.
Hot potato: If Russia skewed
the Brexit referendum, do we void the result and vote again?
Bryan W Van Norden
Mainstream Western philosophy is
narrow-minded, unimaginative, and even xenophobic. It used to be
more cosmopolitan. Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said of Chinese
philosophers: "They surpass us .. in practical philosophy, that is,
in the precepts of ethics and politics adapted to the present life
and the use of mortals."
Christian Wolff said
Confucius showed that it was possible to have a system of morality
without basing it on either divine revelation or natural religion.
Conservative Christians had Wolff relieved of his duties and exiled
from Prussia. But he became a hero of the German Enlightenment.
Immanuel Kant, who was notoriously racist, asserted that the
Chinese, Indians, Africans, and Native Americans are congenitally
incapable of philosophy. Contemporary Western philosophers who
follow him take it for granted that there is no Chinese, Indian,
African, or Native American philosophy.
E Moore (1873-1958) was one of the founders of analytic philosophy,
now the dominant tradition in the English-speaking world. When
Indian philosopher Surendra Nath Dasgupta read a paper to a session
of the Aristotelian Society in London, Moore's only comment was: "I
have nothing to offer myself. But I am sure that whatever Dasgupta
says is absolutely false." The audience of British philosophers in
attendance roared with laughter.
Anglo-American analytic (AAA) philosophers are in thrall to
science. National or ethnic qualifiers for the term "science" make
no sense for a true scientist.
2017 November 2
West v China
We in the west will be challenged to keep a
margin of superiority over China without developing an adversarial
relationship. We must see that management of our economy and
politics has been unsatisfactory for many years. We let our
financial system run aground in a crisis, we underinvested in our
future and let a gulf emerge between economic winners and losers,
and we let lies and hatred consume our politics.
Putin v US
Russia-gate will be a critical factor in US
domestic politics in the months to come. The Kremlin says Russia
never messed with the US politics. For Russians the meddling was
neither surprising nor scandalous.
Received wisdom in Moscow
is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting
the United States. President Vladimir Putin wants to make Russia an
equal partner with countries like China. From his perspective,
interfering in the US presidential election was a performance
organized mostly for a global public.
Russia is vastly weaker
in most ways than the United States. But the Kremlin believes that
power and weakness are complex concepts and the stronger party can
lose. Russians think he who dares wins.
A document drawn up by staff who work with Conservative MPs
accuses 40 of the MPs of sexual misconduct and harassment. The
spreadsheet of shame deserves a haiku:
Please keep your handsies
Entirely to yourselfies
It is not that hard
2017 November 1
Neutron Star Mergers
Neutron star mergers tell us a lot.
Combining the gravitational and electromagnetic signals from the
recently detected collision we have a clean way to measure the
In an expanding universe, the farther away
an astronomical object is, the faster it recedes. The
Hubble constant says how much faster. We estimate that galaxies move
away from us at around 70 km/s faster for each additional megaparsec
of distance away from us (a megaparsec is about 31 Zm). To date, the
two best ways of measuring the Hubble constant give different
A high estimate of 73 comes from estimating distance
and velocity for lots of astronomical objects. We measure their
redshift to find their recessional velocity due to cosmic expansion.
We then build a cosmic distance ladder. We start by deducing the
distances to stars in the Milky Way using parallax. Thus we deduce
the brightness of Cepheid stars, which serve as standard candles. We
spot them in nearby galaxies to calculate how far away the galaxies
are. In the galaxies we spot Type Ia supernovas — brighter standard
candles that let us see further out. In 2016, a team known as SH0ES
used this approach to peg the Hubble constant at 73.2, apparently
A low estimate of 68 comes from Planck telescope
data. The Planck team used the cosmic microwave background (CMB)
snapshot depicting pressure waves giving density variations at
different scales known as the CMB power spectrum. The Hubble
constant can be calculated from it. The team made assumptions about
other cosmological parameters to get a value of 67.8, supposedly +/-
The 68/73 discrepancy is still a mystery — but colliding
neutron stars can be standard sirens. They send out spacetime
ripples that are not dimmed by gas or dust. The waves transmit a
clean record of the strength of the collision that lets us infer the
distance to the source. We can also detect EM radiation from the
collisions and use its redshift to determine their recessional
velocity. Divided by distance, this gives the Hubble constant.
From the first collision alone, we calculate the Hubble constant
to be 70, give or take 10. We can improve the accuracy with more
Neutron stars may contain new forms of
matter. A neutron star is the compressed core of a massive star,
with a solar mass squeezed into a ball of radius 10 km. It is the
last stop on the line before a black hole.
A shiny 1—2 cm
veneer of normal atoms — mostly Fe and Si — coats a neutron star.
Below it, the atoms squeeze so close together that their electrons
form a shared sea. Deeper, the protons inside nuclei start turning
into neutrons, which cluster close enough together to overlap.
Nucleons are made up of three quarks. Under immense pressure,
these quarks might form a new state of quark matter. All that extra
energy might go into creating heavier particles that contain not
just up and down quarks but also strange quarks.
neutron stars that rotate quickly, sweeping a radio beam across
Earth with each spin. For pulsars in binary systems, what should be
a constant tick-tock of pulses hitting Earth will vary, betraying
their motion and location in orbit.
Pulsars have been
observed with about twice the solar mass. In theory, they should
collapse into a black hole. Neutron stars stuffed with interacting
quarks could be dense enough, while neutron stars made up only of
nucleons would be too big.
The Neutron Star Interior
Composition Explorer (NICER) is designed to find the size of neutron
stars by watching for hot spots on their surfaces. The experiment
should produce better radius measurements for neutron stars.
In the final second or so of the latest Laser Interferometer
Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) signal, the orbiting
pair of neutron stars started to stretch and squeeze each other,
generating tides that stole energy from their orbits. This made them
collide faster than otherwise.
Astrophysicists are looking
forward to new data from NICER and LIGO.
AR A neutron star mirrored ball — hero